Focus more on rehabilitation to help ex-offenders

As a counsellor who deals with substance abusers, I found Mr Nicholas Matthew Goh's letter to be empathetic and thoughtful ("Society must free ex-offenders from 'second prison'"; last Friday).

With regard to the Yellow Ribbon Project, the Government's employment of former offenders in a significant way could set the example for the rest of society in helping former offenders reintegrate.

Former offenders need to feel that they are being paid comparable wages to non-offenders, and have scope for career advancement.

This will provide them with the motivation to rebuild themselves, and boost their confidence, self-belief and self-esteem.

The number of former offenders in the same company needs to be controlled to defuse triggers for relapse. Even though the recidivism rate is 25 per cent, I believe there are many who relapse but do not get caught for years.

Life in society is more stressful than life in prison.

When an offender is released, he grapples with the basic psychological needs of survival, self-esteem/confidence, freedom, fun, love and belonging.

Former offenders need the help of family, psychologists, addiction specialists, counsellors, befrienders and even the police to help them reintegrate.

One key issue that needs to be revisited is the focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, particularly for those who engage only in drug consumption, and not trafficking, violence and crime.

In my view, these former offenders are good people; it is typically the psychosocial and socio-economic environment - such as ineffective parenting, dysfunctional families and poor company - that drives them to drugs.

Singapore's approach to combating terrorism involves reforming radicalised individuals by helping them change their beliefs through rehabilitation. A similar approach could be considered in the area of drug rehabilitation.

It would also be better to free the Drug Rehabilitation Centre from a prison environment.

Kuharajahsingam Karalasingam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2016, with the headline 'Focus more on rehabilitation to help ex-offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe