Speech on Head P “Reforming Offenders, Lowering Recividism”

1. Sir, a nation’s prisons are strong signals about what kinds of behaviours it feels are criminal and have harmed societies in the strongest terms. But they are also centres of hope and second chances.

2. Over several decades, our officers of the Singapore Prison Service, known as Captains of Lives, have been working assiduously to turn our prisons to rehabilitation centres for inmates — to reform and reintegrate into society.

3. This House heard about the good work that the Singapore Prison Service, Yellow Ribbon Singapore and their partners do in rehabilitating prisoners in January 2022 when the hon Minister of State, Assoc Prof Faishal Ibrahim moved amendments to the Prisons Act.

4. As hon. Members may recall, the amendments introduced the Employment Preparation Scheme or EmPS. Under this scheme, inmates were allowed an opportunity to undergo skills training in the community so that they will be able to get good jobs thereafter.

5. In his speech, the hon Minister of State recounted the steps taken by the Singapore Prison Service to help inmates turn over a new leaf. The steps included:

a. The introduction of the Work Release Scheme, which EmPS just replaced, to allow inmates to work outside prison under supervision;

b. The Home Detention Scheme to allow inmates to serve the tail-end of their imprisonment sentence at their residences

c. The Mandatory Aftercare Scheme to provide close support and tighter supervision to released inmates who are at a higher risk of re-offending.

d. A more calibrated approach to deal with drug abusers which allows repeat drug offenders who did not commit other criminal offences to undergo rehabilitation in the Drug Rehabilitation Centres and thereafter be placed on community-based programmes.

6. Whilst the inmates are serving sentences, they are provided with intense counselling services. These services have been digitalised through provision of the Digitalisation of Inmate Rehabilitation & Corrections Tools (DIRECT) tablets. Inmates can keep track of their personal reflections and rehabilitation progress through these tablets with guidance from their supervisors. They can also access motivational talks and psychological based correctional programmes.

7. Currently, the number of inmates participating in community-based programmes to help their rehabilitation has increased by more than 40%. This translates to almost 3,500 inmates. An impressive 90% of the inmates successfully complete the programmes too.

8. I believe that all these efforts have been instrumental in SPS achieving a commendable all time low 2-year recividism rate of 20%, for inmates released in 2018. The 5-year recividism rate remains stable. These rates are among the lowest in the world, with only a few countries such as Norway doing better than Singapore.

9. The question that arises is what more should be done to help our inmates reform and lower recidivism even further. One in five slipping back into a life of crime is still one too many.

10. Over time, our prison population is gradually reducing. This is a good sign. From my own calculations, I worked out the Singapore prison population rate as at 2020 to be 163 per 100,000. This compares 212 per 100,000 in Malaysia.

a. There are however states with lower figures than ours. I cite 3 figures:

i. Hong Kong’s rate is 96 per 100,000;

ii. South Korea’s is 105 per 100,000; and

iii. England’s rate is 132 per 100,000.

11. To be fair, when I looked at our prison population figures, I noted that the main driver is actually those who have committed drug offences.

a. Almost 70% of our penal inmate population consist of drug offenders.

b. We have an uncompromising stance on drugs that allowed us to have one of the lowest rates of drug abuse in the world; about 30 opiate abusers per 100,000 compared to 600 per 100,000 in the US.

c. Although this tough stance means that more people will be jailed, I support this our way of dealing with this scourge.

12. It seems to me therefore, to lower recidivism in a more decisive way, we will have focus even more on the rehabilitation and aftercare programme for these drug offenders.

a. This is obviously not easy but we are fortunate in Singapore that SPS, CNB and its partners have been doing excellent work on this front for a long time.

b. One suggestion I have, is to carefully monitor the company that drug offenders keep during the time that they are subject to drug supervision orders.

i. I came across a case of an ex-inmate who when reporting for urine test, reconnected with old friends who were also reporting for urine test, and thereafter started committing crime together.

ii. It sounds perhaps too much like a surveillance state to require that we keep tabs on who such supervisees meet, or to constrain them from mixing around with more hardened offenders. I have in mind something more like using the good to crowd out the bad — occupy their time and energies with new and interesting options.

13. Motivating inmates, providing them the structural and emotional support to reform from within themselves, giving them opportunities to learn new skills and acquire knowledge, emplacing them in decent jobs and helping them reintegrate into their families and societies are important steps to lower recividism amongst our inmates.

14. I look forward to hearing from the hon Minister of State on his Ministry’s plans to cut the recividism rate in the near future.



Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.

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Murali Pillai

Member of Parliament, Bukit Batok SMC, Advisor to Bukit Batok SMC GROs.