Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Desmond Chin
Chairman of SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong
Distinguished guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen
- A very good morning. First, let me begin by thanking you for the work that you do. It takes a lot of passion, commitment and energy to do the work that you do, and for that, I thank you.
- Fifteen years ago, we embarked on the Yellow Ribbon Project to create awareness about the need to give second chances to ex-offenders. It is also to generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families in the community, and to inspire community action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into society.
- The inaugural Yellow Ribbon Conference in 2005 was our first step to create a platform to share best practices and research, and strengthen collaboration in our correctional community, so that better rehabilitation and reintegration approaches can be developed.
- Six years later, we hosted the Yellow Ribbon Conference at the 13th International Corrections and Prisons Association Conference held in Singapore. More than 100 community partners gathered to discuss about community reintegration and a new focus in corrections - aftercare.
- I am happy to see many friends and partners with us today. The commitment to learn from each other and keep up with developments will certainly allow us to achieve our next paradigm shift in community corrections.
- I visited Iceland in May this year. They have many programmes for the prevention of substance abuse. Professor Harvey Milkman will be speaking on the Icelandic model, and how it has successfully reversed substance abuse trends amongst teenagers over the last 20 years. Youths who reported being drunk in the past one month dropped from over 40 per cent to around five per cent today, and youths trying cannabis dropped from 17 per cent to two per cent.
- So there are certainly merits to the Icelandic Model. I will highlight three takeaways. One, it is important for policy makers, practitioners and researchers to work together. Two, rehabilitation efforts should be anchored in scientific and evidence-based research, and third, we need to adopt a community-based approach to rehabilitation. I will touch on these three points in detail later.
- First, policy makers, practitioners and researchers need to strengthen partnerships, talk and listen to one another to understand issues at a wider and deeper level. They must leverage each other’s strengths and competencies, pool together their resources, for better rehabilitation outcomes.
- In Singapore, we have the CARE Network. It is an alliance of over 100 community partners with diverse expertise and unique skillsets. These include voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), religious groups, schools, Family Service Centres, halfway houses and grassroots organisations. Through initiatives like Project ReConnect that helps ex-offenders to adjust to life after incarceration, or the CapitaLand-YRF Children Support Programme that reaches out to children of offenders, the CARE Network has improved our rehabilitation efforts for ex-offenders throughout Singapore, and has helped to build a more resilient aftercare support eco-system.
- Second, we should anchor rehabilitation efforts in scientific research, and move towards an evidence-based approach in the way we develop our policies and initiatives. Our Prisons today is no longer just about keeping people behind bars. We transform lives through rehabilitation programmes based on a scientific and evidence-based model - the Risk-Need-Responsivity (or RNR) model.
- Depending on the risks and needs identified, an inmate has opportunities to improve his work ethics and employability through work programmes or vocational training. This could be work in a bakery that supplies to our local confectionaries, restaurants and caterers, learning how to operate a forklift, or even farming and growing food at the indoor vegetable farm. He could further his education in the prison school that offers an academic curriculum, taught by MOE-trained teachers. He could also attend psychological-based programmes run by our correctional rehabilitation specialists to target his criminal thinking and behaviour, or participate in family programmes run by our community partners to learn skills to maintain and improve family ties during his incarceration. All these efforts are to prepare the inmates for a crime-free and productive life in the community.
- Studies show that the post-release phase is a crucial period for ex-offenders. It is where they experience strains and pressures of life. So this brings me to the third takeaway - the need for a community-based approach to rehabilitation.
- Rehabilitation efforts inside prisons form the foundation, while support from the community are the scaffold that will allow sustainable support for ex-offenders beyond the prison walls. By providing support to offenders in the community, rehabilitation becomes more effective.
- Last year, close to 2,000 offenders were released to serve the tail end of their sentences in the community. Some go out to work in the day and return home to their families or to prison at night, while others attend programmes at the halfway houses. We envisage more in the community to be subject to these community-based programmes, but of course strict supervision with protocols in place have to be implemented. They could be released on community-based programmes for a longer duration, or serve community sentences. By assisting them to ease back into everyday life, we facilitate their reintegration into the community.
- We can have the best system, offer the best evidence-based programmes, but let’s not forget we are dealing with people. People have emotions, people need motivation to change, and for many, family is the greatest motivation.
- I was reminded of this, when I met James (not his real name) recently. He shared his story with me. He was only 14 years old when he became involved in gangs. At 16 he was consuming drugs. He was in and out of prisons eight times, spent a third of his life in prison. At one visit session, his 10-year-old son said: “Daddy, why do all my friends have their parents with them when they go to school, but you are not there.” James did not respond to his son, but those words changed his life. Today, four years after his release, James has kept away from crime. The skills that he learnt from the Manalive Programme in prison reminds him to refrain from using violence. And the family behind this motivation has enabled him to give greater focus to the many programmes that we have, and this enabled him to build rewarding pro-social relationships. Now, I am happy to note that he is supporting other ex-offenders, paying it forward so that others can benefit from what he had. He volunteers with ISCOS, to provide support to ex-offenders and youths-at-risk.
- Families play important roles in the rehabilitation and reintegration journey of offenders. But families need help to shoulder the stress of incarceration too. Community agencies can help to find families who need assistance, and provide support by engaging and involving them in pro-social activities. Therefore, it is important that Prisons work in partnership with community agencies to involve families in intervention programmes. These include raising families’ awareness of their role in supporting their loved one’s reintegration.
- Acceptance by the community is a crucial part of reintegration for both the families and ex-offenders. It helps to reduce re-offending, and its ripple effect, prevent inter-generational crime. Our efforts are showing results. Two decades ago, two in five inmates return to prison in two years. Today, it is one in four. But it is not just the numbers that matters. Each number represents a person, and a family that could be seriously affected.
- The success of the Icelandic Model was not achieved overnight. It was a result of the involvement of the entire community, and the commitment to build a healthy eco-system for their future generations.
- I would like to encourage all of us to take small steps, in our own little ways, to reach out and transform the lives of ex-offenders and their families. With your commitment, I hope we can one day reach a stage where no child will have to ask where their parents are when they are in school.
- I wish all of you a fruitful day and fruitful conference. Thank you.