Published: 19 April 2018
Chairman SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong,
Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Desmond Chin,
Colleagues and Friends,
1. Thank you for inviting me to join you at your Corporate Advance.
Building a Future-Ready Team
2. In a perfect world, laws would not be needed. People will get along and not do things that hurt others. In a perfect world, prisons would not exist. There would be no need for them.
3. We are all imperfect beings living in an imperfect world. We make laws to set the boundaries on human conduct. We set out penalties to deter people from breaking the law. We enforce laws so that law breakers are penalised, in the hope that they will not repeat their offences. Sometimes, the penalties involve serving time behind bars.
4. This is where you come in. When we put offenders in prison, we hope to prevent them from committing further harm to others, permanently. However, to preserve law and order in society, locking up offenders is neither enough nor sustainable as a strategy.
5. We have to complement incarceration with efforts to rehabilitate and reform. Our aim is to minimise the potential for inmates to re-offend after they are released. Our ability to do so depends on you. This is why SPS and SCORE need to constantly strengthen your capabilities and effectiveness.
6. It is also why your plans to transform are important. SCORE aims to help inmates become more employable, through initiatives like the validated job profiling and performance coaching. This facilitates their reintegration back into society and reduces recidivism.
7. ‘Prison Without Guards’ will help SPS be more efficient operationally, through greater use of technology, data analytics and automation. As you can see, they can transform the way you work. They will improve prison safety and security, and very importantly, free up our officers’ time to focus more on rehabilitation.
8. But, as we all know, the process of change is never easy. Unfortunately, we cannot have long term gain without some short term pain. I know our officers will persevere and we will emerge better organisations once we cross the hurdles.
Technology not a substitute for Captains of Lives
9. Without me saying so, you already know that our investments in technology are means to an end. Stanley (CEO SCORE) alluded to that when he talked about tele-visiting. It is not the technology of televisits that matters, but that it connects families.
10. The heart of an outstanding prisons service remains our people. This is why we call you our Captains of Lives.
11. In fact, over the years, your role as Captains of Lives has widened. Besides overseeing inmates, you exert a positive influence on them and provide a bridge to the wider community of support. For our ex-offenders, your constant encouragement, empathy and support help them overcome their fears and doubts. It’s not just your good intentions that’s making a difference. Our work has been better informed and strengthened by research, experimentation, and a willingness to innovate. When we get it right, offenders get a better shot in life. Their families too, can get their lives back on track.
Rehabilitation makes a difference
12. This was the case with Mr Abdul Razak, an ex-offender and a former resident of Pertapis Halfway House whom I met recently. Razak had been in and out of DRC and prison since 1984. In 2010, he was released after 17 years in prison. At first, things seemed to be going well for him. He got a job and was promoted shortly. But he felt unequal to the task and left. At his next job, he was again promoted because of good performance. The stress got to him and he relapsed.
13. By 2014, just around four years after he was released from that long period of incarceration, Razak was admitted to the DRC again for the fifth time and was emplaced on a 6-month community-based programme in Pertapis Halfway House. He has not been back to the DRC since.
14. Today, Razak and his brother operate a successful food and catering business. He participates in the Narcotics Anonymous programme where he provides support to other recovering addicts, and gives motivational talks to at-risk youths. He also got married. Razak is here, and I want him to stand so we can acknowledge his presence. Thank you Razak for taking time to meet me at Pertapis and for allowing me to share your story.
15. I asked Razak what was the difference between the DRC of yesteryears and what he experienced in 2014. He is well qualified to tell us. His answer was simple – “programmes”. One of the programmes he attended as part of his six months in DRC, was the High-on-Life programme, which taught him relapse prevention skills, and helped him to map out new life goals.
16. For example, he now knows what to do to avoid falling into wrong company. He also identified WSQ courses that would help him be successful in business such as “Communications with Customers” and “F&B Operations Management”. He was very determined. He said, ‘I need skills, and I’m going to get them.’
17. His emplacement in the Pertapis Halfway House played an important part. It provided a supportive environment, as he was getting back to society, and it helped him rebuild his sense of self-worth in a world that was no longer so familiar to him.
18. But perhaps the biggest reason for Razak’s change is “love” - he told me so himself. The love of his life is his wife, Ms Iris Yang. Among other things, Iris would take leave from work to accompany Razak for his urine tests to help him stay away from his drug-abusing friends. He could not forsake her unconditional love.
19. Through Razak’s story, we can see changed attitudes and the right support make all the difference in an ex-offender’s life. Such effective rehabilitation and reintegration is only possible through the hard work of the offenders themselves, the love of their families, and also the skills equipping through programmes offered by SPS, SCORE and community partners.
20. Through these collective efforts, we have not done badly. And we can hold our heads high in the International Corrections and Prisons Association and other international forums.
21. Our two-year recidivism rate has halved from almost 50% in the 1990s, before this transformation came about, to 25.9% for the 2015 release cohort. We don’t tell you figures for 2016 and 2017, and you know this is because we only consider it as a meaningful indicator two years after their release. So we look at the 2015 release cohort. Now this is already among the lowest recidivism rate in the past five years, and internationally, it is also among the lowest in major jurisdictions.
22. But your job is not done.
23. We could say that your challenge today is to get the next breakthrough in reducing our recidivism rate. You know, however, that it is much more than the numbers.
24. Your challenge today is to make an even bigger difference to the lives that society has entrusted and put in your hands.
25. Pause for a minute to think about it. In education, we hope every student comes closer to fulfilling their human potential. And that’s why we try to make every school a good school. In healthcare, we hope every patient recovers and goes on to live well and live longer.
26. What about offenders? We wish they had not offended in the first place just as we wish people did not fall sick. But they did.
27. What if we challenged you to make every offender a better person than when he first came into the prison system?
28. How can you help every offender develop a better sense of self-worth? How will every offender build positive relationships and networks of support for their life beyond the walls? How can every offender acquire skills to lead a more productive life when they get it back?
29. What would you do differently as their Captains of Lives?
Challenges & Opportunities
30. There are of course other challenges we have to deal with.
Enhancing Rehabilitation and Aftercare Support for Drug Inmates on Long-Term Imprisonment
31. One immediate challenge is the large number of repeat drug offenders on long-term imprisonment who will be released over the next few years. Rehabilitation and aftercare support will be key for this group, to help them stay away from drugs.
32. To help such high-risk drug offenders, we introduced the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, or MAS, in 2014.
33. Prior to MAS implementation, there was no residential rehabilitation programme that was mandated for offenders upon their release at the last one-third portion of their sentence.
34. These are one of the most challenging groups to rehabilitate as they are repeat offenders and many have already lost the support of their families or pro-social peers. They have very few people to count on, to turn to even.
35. Instead of returning straightaway into society after their release from Prisons, these ex-inmates are placed in the Selarang Halfway House where they undergo work. They are also engaged through pro-social activities such as family engagement sessions. When they are assessed to be ready, they will move on to the next phases of the MAS - Home Supervision and Community Reintegration. Step by step, a little bit at a time.
36. The Selarang Halfway House will be relocated to the new Selarang Park Complex by the end of this year. I look forward to the opening of its new home.
Enhancing Employability Potential of Inmates
37. Our labour market and work environment is also rapidly changing. This is a challenge for SCORE, to help ex-offenders find suitable work.
38. Jobs-skills mismatch due to economic restructuring is already a concern for the general workforce, for regular employees. It is even tougher for offenders who have been out of the job market for many years. And the figures are stark.
39. About 30% of our inmates have only education levels of primary school or less. Many of them also have limited vocational skills or prior work experience. That makes securing any job, let alone a good job, challenging.
40. SCORE has done well in training inmates inside prisons and matching them to employers. But aspirations among ex-offenders are also rising.
41. First, SCORE needs to constantly re-invent and re-assess the effectiveness of your job preparation process. Razak’s example shows that successful preparation is linked to individual career preferences, their commitment and drive, and also market relevance.
42. Second, SCORE can help to ensure that inmates not only get employed, but have what it takes to stay in employment and make progress. That they can deal with a promotion, that they know what to do in order to take on larger responsibilities at work.
43. Third, SCORE must continue to engage employers and meet their needs. Corporate social responsibility is great, but companies have bottom lines. So we must be mindful that whatever it is that we do meets their needs as well. And this is absolutely necessary and crucial for us to keep opportunities open for ex-offenders.
44. I am heartened that you have plans in all three areas.
45. Within the prisons workshop, SCORE will progressively roll out rehabilitative-focused initiatives within this year. Workshop supervisors will be trained to provide better coaching for the inmates and guide inmates to develop career development plans.
46. You will assign Job Coaches to ex-offenders to help them resolve work-related issues and adapt to the work demands, something that might have helped Razak avoid a relapse in 2014.
47. You are actively reaching out to potential employers, such as RedMart, which has hired 49 ex-offenders as warehouse assistants since partnering SCORE in 2014.
48. To conclude, the successful reintegration of ex-offenders will require the participation of multiple stakeholders. And I know many of you are here today.
49. I thank all of our officers and community partners. The community partners in particular have shown a level of commitment that is unparalleled and has made our work possible. Our mission is the same as yours, to continue to make a real difference to the lives of offenders and their families.
50. I would, of course, especially like to take this opportunity to thank Stanley Tang, CEO of SCORE, for his many years of dedicated service, 32 and a half years, the best years of his life.
51. You joined us in 1985 and held various leadership appointments before he was seconded to SCORE in April 2014.
52. As CEO SCORE, Stanley played a key role in shaping SCORE’s strategic directions and achieving its mission of offender rehabilitation and reintegration. Under his leadership, SCORE made significant improvements in enhancing inmates’ employability potential and job retention. The YR Industries Pte Ltd, SCORE’s wholly owned subsidiary, was operationalised in 2016. Stanley also oversaw the operationalisation of the external laundry arm of YR Industries Pte Ltd and the Selarang Halfway House in 2017.
53. Stanley, on behalf of MHA, we can never thank you enough. And we would like to say that your sterling contributions have made a real difference. Best wishes, for the next best part of your life.
54. I would of course, also like to welcome Chee Kin, who will be taking over as CEO SCORE next month.
55. As you take on this new role, I have no advice to give. But I am reminded of a particular line from a movie that some of you may have seen.
56. More than 20 years ago, there was a film made based on a novella by Stephen King. This film, The Shawshank Redemption, was about a banker who was accused of murdering his wife and her lover, and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison to be served at the Shawshank correctional facility.
57. In the film, one of the minor characters was named Brooks, an old inmate who looked after the prison library. When Brooks was due for parole, he threatened to kill another prisoner in order to stay in prison. But he was persuaded otherwise and released to a halfway house. In one of the saddest scenes of the film, Brooks takes his own life. He had found it impossible to adjust.
58. One of the key characters in this film was played by Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman, in this film, was also serving a long sentence, and he made a poignant reflection about life behind bars. He said this in the film, and I quote: “These walls are funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.”
59. To Chee Kin and all our colleagues, we are all here with a singular purpose - to help our offenders rebuild their lives beyond the walls of the prison. The Yellow Ribbon Project calls on all of us to help ex-offenders unlock their second prison.
60. In an imperfect world, who can we count on to help us become our less imperfect selves? For our ex-offenders, they’re counting on you, the Captains of Lives. We are counting on you.
61. I wish all of you a very meaningful Corporate Advance 2018.
62. Thank you.