Published: 02 November 2022
Mdm Shie Yong Lee, Commissioner of Prisons & Co-Chairman of the CARE Network,
Mr Phillip Tan, Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Singapore & Co-Chairman of the CARE Network,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Thank you for inviting me to the second Yellow Ribbon Awards ceremony. I am very heartened to join everyone in the audience today, to celebrate the remarkable efforts of this wonderful community. What a privilege it is that we have such a community in Singapore.
2. Together, there are close to 6,000 employers and community partners, and over 4,000 volunteers supporting the Yellow Ribbon cause in Singapore. Thank you so much, for remaining steadfast in your commitment to giving second chances. You have helped to build a more inclusive Singapore.
3. The Yellow Ribbon Awards was inaugurated in 2021, so it is fairly new. The idea was to recognise ex-offenders who have successfully reintegrated into the community. This acknowledges that their journey, even after incarceration, is a very difficult one. They face challenges in many different ways, adapting to some very new conditions in their life. The awards are also dedicated to the partners, employers, and volunteers, who have helped ex-offenders with their reintegration.
4. The theme for the Yellow Ribbon Awards 2022 is the same as last year – “We Are Each Other’s Second Chances”. It’s just a few simple words, but I think we can all appreciate how profoundly it conveys the depth of effort that is required from the whole of society to help our ex-offenders. It is about giving each other second chances. And, for those of us who have come into contact with an ex-offender, it is how we have also given ourselves a second chance, to see how we can be of service, and how we can help to uplift.
5. It reminds us that each of us has a part to play to create a more inclusive and cohesive society. One that embraces second chances, and cultivates a strong network of support and opportunities. It is about the kind of society that we want to create, which is different from the one that we knew before, that is really one that reaches out and tries to touch even more people than we have been able to.
Overcomers – Resilience and Paying It Forward
6. I would therefore like to make special mention of the 70 Overcomers present among us today, who are receiving the Yellow Ribbon awards. They are receiving this award because they overcame great odds, and there is something to celebrate about their journey of overcoming. And as an Overcomer, they deserve our recognition. They are ex-offenders who have remained crime-free for at least three years, and some, for more than 30 years even.
7. They have successfully turned their lives around, going beyond being just recipients of second chances. They have found a new meaning to life and a conviction that they too, can give back to society. They are not only on the receiving end, they have a second chance to give as well. Today, these Overcomers are volunteering for social or environmental causes, paying it forward with their own time and effort to help others.
8. Let me share the story of Madam Norah Marliah Binte Zaini. Norah is a Beyond Second Chances award recipient. Released in 2003, she works as a part-time stall assistant and is the main caregiver to her four children aged between three to 14. Norah believes in playing a strong and active role in supporting her family and strives to ensure the well-being of her children. Her husband works as a full-time delivery driver.
9. Despite her many commitments at work and at home, Norah is actively involved in ISCOS’s NeuGen Fund programmes and activities. During Ramadan in 2021, she volunteered to cook and distribute a total of 800 packets of porridge to the residents of the rental flats near her estate. On average, she served about 100 packets of porridge per weekend. What a remarkable effort. Today, Norah still regularly cooks and distributes meals to mosque attendees during congregational prayers. She also encourages her children to participate in the distribution.
10. Norah’s story is a testimony of the transformative power of second chances. Like all the other Overcomers, she shows us how one can always find a way to pay it forward.
11. I just want to say a big thank you to all the other Overcomers, including those whom I have not been able to mention individually, for affirming the trust of those who have supported you.
Community – A strong Network of Support and Opportunities
12. Now, sitting with our Overcomers, are their family members who form the bedrock of their support system. Our Overcomers were able to succeed because of the strong network and support opportunities from both their families and the community.
13. Today, we want to acknowledge the strong network of community partners - from employers and like-minded organisations, to individual advocates, volunteers, donors, and funders.
14. Let me share more about one of them – Life Community Services Society (LCSS), which was established in 1996. The mission of LCSS is to empower children and families through care and mentoring. As a partner of the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders Network (CARE Network), LCSS helps to manage the Friends of Children and Youth Programme.
15. This is a programme that aims to help children and youths impacted by parental incarceration. Through the programme, each child or youth is assigned a caseworker as well as a mentor. Together, they help ensure the child or the youth is ready and equipped with a resilient character and life skills for their next phase of life.
16. In 2021, LCSS assisted about 300 children and youths. Through the programme, about 80 per cent of these children and youth experienced a reduction in behavioral issues, demonstrating fewer delinquent behaviours. They also showed improvement in their social relationships, forging more pro-social relationships and having greater emotional resilience to overcome personal challenges. Anyone who has done work with children or youths with these kinds of experiences, knows how hard it is to help them to walk out of that shadow. You will know this is not just hard work, but ‘heart’ work.
17. Thank you, LCSS and all our community partners and volunteers. for your tireless dedication in improving the lives of ex-offenders and their families.
Community’s Trust – Offering a Second Chance through Employment Opportunities
18. Let me turn now to employment. Gainful employment is critical to an ex-offender’s successful reintegration. Offering a job to an ex-offender is one of the most concrete demonstrations of societal support for second chances.
19. Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) has been playing an important role in galvanising our society to uplift ex-offenders through upskilling and career development.
(a) Under the TAP (Train And Place) & Grow initiative, inmates undergo training in the media, precision engineering or logistics sectors. They are equipped with practical skills, learn from top industry practitioners, and then matched with employers once they are released.
(b) YRSG also supports the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) in implementing the Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS). Under this scheme, suitable inmates have the opportunity to undergo skills training and education, or take up employment while on the Community-Based Programme.
(c) When serving the remainder of their sentence in the community, inmates will further undergo modular trainings for key competencies such as Digital Fluency and Learning Agility.
(d) This throughcare approach helps initiate inmates’ future upskilling journeys. This better prepares them for employment and future employability, so that they are enabled to lead a crime-free lives after release.
20. Let me add that YRSG’s efforts can only succeed with the support of employers. If employers are unwilling to come onboard, it would be very difficult to get this going.
21. One such employer is Nando’s Chickenland Singapore Pte Ltd. Since 2012, for about 10 years now, Nando’s has been an employer partner of YRSG and has hired over 300 ex-offenders. Today, they continue to be a strong advocate for inclusive hiring practices. In addition to offering employment, Nando’s is a regular corporate participant and sponsor of the annual Yellow Ribbon Race. At this year’s race, Nando’s was the Official Peri-Peri Chicken Sponsor and generously sponsored over $15,000 worth of vouchers. They made a lot of people happy that day.
22. Thank you, Nando’s and all the other employers who contribute to Yellow Ribbon’s cause.
23. I certainly encourage more employers to step forward and embrace our ex-offenders as valuable employees.
Low and Stable Two-Year Recidivism Rate
24. I want to wrap up my comments by noting that our two-year recidivism rate has remained low and stable over the past few years.
25. This is possible through the collective efforts and commitment of:
(a) SPS, which rehabilitates inmates to address their risks and needs, and follows through with them in the community after their release;
(b) YRSG, which galvanises our society in providing ex-offenders second chances through employment;
(c) Our CARE Network partners, who help inmates and ex-offenders navigate their rehabilitation and reintegration journey;
(d) Needless to say, we also want to appreciate our valued volunteers, donors, and employers, without whose efforts this cannot move forward.
Looking Ahead: Lowering the Five-Year Recidivism Rate
26. However, we need to remind ourselves that there will always be room for improvement and more work that needs to be done, to facilitate longer-term re-integration of ex-offenders.
27. Because, even with our best efforts, when we look at the latest five-year recidivism rate for the 2016 release cohort – at 41%, it is higher than we would like it to be. This means that four in 10 ex-offenders had re-offended and were re-admitted to prison within five years.
28. If we want to bring down the five-year recidivism rate – and it’s not just because a smaller number will be better, but because of the individuals and families and involved – we will need to look at longer-term re-integration issues. For example, we need to improve ex-offenders’ employability through upskilling, because it’s one thing to get them into a job, it’s another thing to help them progress. And, we need to help them stay employed in the longer run. Helping them upskill is essential to their continued employment. We need to strengthen their support networks from the start of their change journey when they are incarcerated, and continue to sustain these pro-social networks after their release. And, we have to support the families and volunteers through this journey too.
29. Underpinning all these is the need to further strengthen the ecosystem of support to help those who want to change, and give them the continued motivation to do so. Everyone who is here today is part of this very important ecosystem – probably one of the most important ecosystems that we will need in society. And I hope that together, we can continue to mobilise the larger community, and spread the message of Yellow Ribbon in taking action to give second chances.
30. Thank you very much once again, and have a great afternoon.