Published: 10 May 2023
Commissioner of Prisons Yong Lee,
Phillip, Chairman, Yellow Ribbon Singapore,
Matthew, Chief Executive, Yellow Ribbon Singapore,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very good morning to all of you.
1. You’ve seen the video, you’ve heard Matthew’s speech. When we look at prisons, we go well beyond traditionally what prisons do, which is to lock people up for the term that is identified by the court, and then when they come out, they are society’s problem.
2. You know the tagline “Captains of Lives”. We have gone well beyond that to look at reform, what happens, how we prevent offending. How do we, during their time in prison, make sure that they will be given the best possible set of opportunities and training, so they can come out and won’t reoffend. And when they are out, post-release stage, what can we do to support them. This requires a complete shift in mindset and over the years, this has happened and has been a very strong focus now that we look at it for more than what we can call a life cycle. I think Singapore Prison Service (SPS) has been mould-breaking, it has been successful doing these things which I don’t know who else does in the world, but not that many from the advanced countries as far as I can tell. It requires strong leadership. We’ve been lucky, but where we are at, we are not quite done. We need the right people. We have been fortunate to have the right people leading it. It starts with the leadership and the buy-in from all the officers. I thank Yong Lee, and all of you from SPS and the system, for making this a success.
3. A key metric that we look out is the two-year recidivism rate. It has gone down to 20.4% for the 2020 release cohort. I am told that it is one of the lowest in the world, and it has remained low and stable.
4. Internationally, these efforts have been noticed. I have been pushing SPS to make themselves more international, showcase their efforts, so that when people talk about Singapore, they also understand what our system is.
5. For example, Associate Professor Jeffrey Pfeifer from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia conducted a study on our efforts in 2022.
6. Professor Pfeifer is a serious person. He is a member and coordinator of international corrections associations and research networks. He has published more than 150 journal articles and reports on rehabilitation programmes around the world. An expert in this area.
7. He found that Singapore is above international standards in many areas, including that: (1) the Government and community partners work closely together, closely aligned with a focus on minimising re-offending; (2) and the fact that every single ground officer who has to perform rehabilitative functions actually receives rehabilitation training – and this not always the case in other places; and (3) identifying SPS’s throughcare approach, as a really stand-out example, not just as a programme, but the effective implementation of the programme, as a stand out example amongst international jurisdictions.
8. Not quite dealt with, but having gotten the 2-year recidivism rate stable, we want to bring it down further. It is at 20%. We are also focusing on the 5-year recidivism rate.
9. That has been more challenging. It has been stubbornly stuck at about 40% for the last 10 years.
10. And we have to see how we can break the cycle of reoffending, and I think one of the ways is to try and give support for ex-inmates over a longer period.
11. This means partnerships with the community, and partnerships with the family. The families have to come in. Non-Governmental Organisations have to come in. They are the partners and we have to work with them.
12. So, the theme for today’s Corporate Advance is “Forward Corrections: Strengthening Partnerships”.
13. If you look at the three phases:
(a) Before people get into trouble, what can we do to prevent offending;
(b) During the time when they are in prison: how we can improve their chances of not reoffending when they get out; and
(c) When they leave prisons: what can we do to help them re-integrate more effectively.
14. First, prevention.
15. We have our laws and enforcement, all of that helps make Singapore one of the safest countries in the world.
16. And we continue to keep a very close eye on that, update our laws and policies.
17. For example, on drugs. Earlier in March, new laws were passed that allow us to take quick action against New Psychoactive Substances.
18. Last week, I announced that we are setting up another Inter-Ministerial Committee, to really focus, bring more ministries together to focus on drug abuse among young people, and how we can better prevent it.
19. We also actively try and break the cycle of intergenerational offending because research shows that when your parents are imprisoned, the children have a higher risk of offending themselves.
20. SPS works with the self-help groups, family service centres, religious organisations, and the CARE Network, to offer programmes for the children whose parents are in prison.
21. We know that this is a more vulnerable group, so we focus on them to try and see how we can help them. We look at the children’s developmental needs, emotional needs, and also of course, their schooling and academic needs.
22. And our assessment is that these engagements are helping reduce the risks for these children.
23. Their parents in prison – we also give them guidance on how to bond with their children and how to better lead a family life so that their children can be safe.
24. You look at the second part, for those already in prison.
25. The rehabilitation programmes should be based on research and evidence.
26. When you take a one-size-fits-all approach, it is not going to work. Programmes have to be targeted.
27. What our programmes are: (1) Psychology-based correctional programmes, (2) Family programmes, (3) Personal development activities, (4) Skills training and (5) Employment assistance. We see who needs what, and there will be a cocktail of programmes for different inmates.
28. We pay particular attention to employment.
29. When you come out from prison, the fact that you are properly employed, using your skills, is going to be meaningful. It is a sense of empowerment and a sense of self-worth and that helps many stay out longer.
30. YRSG works with 6,200 employer partners. They are the key enablers.
31. This year, YRSG will be expanding its TAP & Grow initiatives.
32. A new ‘through-train’ initiative will be launched in the Food Services sector. What does it mean? The inmates start their training on F&B in prison with potential employers. After release, they continue receiving training on the job, when they move into the jobs. We aim to support about 700 inmates through this programme.
33. We have asked trade associations, employers to come in, to co-sponsor career development courses and qualifications for ex-offenders who have done well in their jobs and shown that they have the potential.
34. This is known as the second part of the Tap & Grow: “Grow Movement”. As of April 2023, about $220,000 has been pledged to support this initiative.
35. YRSG will also be exploring other partnerships in the Green sector, an obvious area; the sector for giving care, because we have an ageing population; and the digital sector, which is another fast-growing area. In all these areas, we are hoping to work with partners.
36. And the Ministry of Manpower’s announcement – they work closely with us – of the new Uplifting Employment Credit scheme, where employers get extra credit for employing inmates, will give a further boost for our efforts.
37. A real life example: let me share the story of a young person – I won’t use his real name for obvious reasons. Steven is an ex-offender now working as a delivery driver, he is working at Mao Heng International Logistics Pte Ltd.
38. While in prison, he received logistics training, under the TAP & Grow initiative. He eventually obtained a Certificate in Logistics Operations.
39. With YRSG’s help, he found his current job.
40. Just five months into his new role, his supervisor recognised that this man can do a good job, with good performance, and gave him further training to prepare him for a more specialised role in logistics fleet operations.
41. With the support of his workplace, his mentor, colleagues, and of course, most importantly, through his own determination, he was able to put what he had learnt in prison to good use. And with the support from his employer, he is moving up.
42. Besides employment, we also have to look at change in social networks, and giving the ex-offenders a strong ecosystem of family and other kinds of support – sometimes religious, sometimes from other social organisations. And these can help as well in trying to prevent re-offending.
43. To focus on this part, SPS now has about 4,000 volunteers. They come from religious organisations, befrienders, Yellow Ribbon Community Project volunteers, and many others. But we need more, so they are focusing on that.
44. Let me, with that, move to the third part, what do you do, and that will be a challenging part of the exercise.
45. It is intuitive, and research suggests it, that ex-inmates who are given more support, who receive more support, are better able to prevent themselves from re-offending. They get more confidence, they re-integrate better.
46. Our Community Corrections System will be enhanced so that suitable inmates whom we identify, serving the tail-end of their sentence in the community, can receive supervision, structured support to move on.
47. So there is a new initiative that SPS has started. We call it the Volunteer Case Officer Scheme for supervisees.
48. Under the scheme, volunteers with social service knowledge and background – counsellors and so on, and can include retired officers, students doing post-graduate studies in social work, psychology, or counselling – they will take on the role as case officers.
49. They will assist in the case management of supervisees who are on Community-Based Programmes. And together with community partners, they will support the ex-inmates in leading a more pro-social life.
50. SPS aims to have about 200 volunteers for a start and focus on supervisees with lower risks of reoffending.
51. In the longer term, we hope that with more training and experience, Volunteer Case Officers can move on to deal with supervisees with moderate-risk background.
52. Second, you heard earlier in the video about the Desistor Network. This was launched last month, in April 2023. It brings together community partners to support people after they are released.
53. Let me share the story of Azzy and how the support of our partners has made a difference for him and his young family.
54. He is 32 years old. He has been in and out of prison a number of times for drug-related offences.
55. The last time he was in, his wife, and their two young children were supported by four of SPS’s volunteer partners.
56. The Salvation Army ran activities for him to bond with his children.
57. His family’s caseworker from The Salvation Army connected them with New Life Stories, which provided family counselling to help him reconcile with his wife.
58. ISCOS and The Salvation Army also helped Azzy with some material needs after his release, such as clothing and a mobile phone and so on.
59. Azzy became more committed to change. He also sought religious support from FITRAH, to help him rebuild a stable life, together with his family.
60. These stories remind us that, with a firm commitment to change, and strong community support, desistance is possible for everyone.
61. But these efforts will only be truly successful if the community is willing to give ex-offenders a second chance.
62. So, we will also continue to strengthen and grow the Yellow Ribbon Project, even as we head into its 20th anniversary next year.
63. And iconic events like the Yellow Ribbon Run will return fully this year.
64. I want to move on and talk about the partnership SPS has with academics, researchers and other like-minded partners.
65. These people play a key role in supporting SPS in delivering evidence-based programmes.
66. SPS will be setting up a Correctional Science Research Network which will comprise (1) Academics (2) Researchers and (3) Partners with an interest in researching into these areas.
67. That will strengthen academic discourse and the application of correctional rehabilitation research for ourselves, and look at it both locally and internationally.
68. And in support of this, SPS will also continue to publish its own publications on correctional and research work.
69. Today, as many of you might know, we are launching a very important publication. Rather than just talk, we set out the research for people to study themselves. It is called “Correctional Rehabilitation and Psychological Interventions in Singapore”.
70. It was put together by correctional rehabilitation specialists and psychologists from SPS.
71. It shows how our rehabilitation landscape has evolved over the years, and how we continue to update, apply, and really shine a light on our own efforts. And when you shine a light, you know also what is lacking, what's good, what's not good. And if more of it is negative, of course, we will also be showing the research. Fortunately for us, each time something is not working, we have managed to change and evolve over the years. We did not start with being right.
72. Snapshots of the rehabilitation journeys of some people and how their lives have been transformed are also featured.
73. So I thank the team behind the book. Extremely well done. They deserve a round of applause.
74. The area of correctional work is one area that's actually a bright spot and it has been under-sold, I think, both locally and internationally because people only get to hear about our punishment framework. They do not realise the amount of effort that goes into helping people with correctional framework. Correction is not just law and order and justice. It's also rebuilding lives. And that part, I think, largely has been drowned out, not known, not understood. And I'll be discussing with SPS more. I think SPS has done a lot over the years to try and bring that out, and what prison officers do. But I think I will continue the discussions with SPS.
75. We have done well.
76. And we can continue to keep doing better to bring down long-term recidivism, and help more people like Steven and Azzy to rebuild and enhance, realise their full potential.
77. Thank you all and I wish all of you a good Corporate Advance.