Recidivism reduction mentors make the biggest difference

Singapore's overall recidivism rate is low and stable - 26.5 per cent for the 2014 released cohort.

For youth below 21 years old, it is even lower. It is an enviable situation for many countries.

For this social accomplishment, Singaporeans have to thank many unsung heroes and volunteers in the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and their major partner, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, for their persistent effort to rehabilitate and prepare inmates for release.

It is even more laudable that SPS is not resting on their laurels and are trying to further reduce the already low recidivism rate (Panel to study how to reduce number of youth re-offenders; Jan 4).

Understandably, it is an uphill task to address the problems of the remaining pool of re-offenders.

One strategy is find ways to improve targeting those who are at high risk of re-offending so that most intensive supervision and treatment can be administered.

Programmes should focus treatment on criminogenic needs, such as criminal thinking or attitudes, so that core behavioural issues that result in criminality can be effectively addressed.

Each inmate possesses his own criminogenic factors, such as criminal history and substance abuse. By identifying these factors as soon as an inmate enters custody, SPS can ensure that the individual receives appropriate services.

Our local social science researchers, together with psychologists, should also be tasked with evaluating and improving effectiveness of various programmes so that, ultimately, SPS can deliver evidence-based interventions and services with fidelity.

Mentors in the recidivism reduction programme have the greatest opportunity to make a difference.

In addition to the regular mentoring responsibilities, they also help ensure inmates attend school regularly, improve family relationships, are provided with substance abuse support and discover job prospects.

Re-entry mentorship is a job that helps heal our community and should deservedly be given all necessary support, professional training and due recognition.

Edmund Lam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2018, with the headline 'Recidivism reduction mentors make the biggest difference'. Print Edition | Subscribe