Society must free ex-offenders from 'second prison'

High unemployment is linked to an increase in the rate of recidivism of former offenders.
High unemployment is linked to an increase in the rate of recidivism of former offenders. PHOTO: ST FILE

As Singaporeans enjoy greater affluence, one group of people has been left in the dust - former offenders.

Despite the Yellow Ribbon Project's annual roadshows to raise public awareness, society remains unforgiving of former offenders.

It is long overdue for us to look at reintegrating them.

A 2005 survey by the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises found that while 34 per cent of companies were willing to hire former convicts, only 4 per cent actually did.

Former offenders' applications are often filtered out, and employers are unwilling to hire them, believing that "a leopard can never change its spots".

High unemployment is linked to an increase in the rate of recidivism.

When former convicts are unable to secure a job, they are unable to afford basic necessities and cannot move up the social ladder. Not surprisingly, many return to their old ways.

The recidivism rate in Singapore is a significant 25 per cent. The solution? Improve employment opportunities.

With tighter foreign labour controls by the Government, tapping this pool of human resource can prove instrumental to any business.

However, even if former offenders are employed, there is no guarantee that they will be treated equally.

They may find themselves in a "second prison" and face the invisible walls formed by social stigma, fear and distrust.

This is the crux of the problem.

Society plays a significant role in the reintegration of former offenders.

No matter what mistakes they made, they are still a part of us.

Let us open our hearts and let them in.

Nicholas Matthew Goh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Society must free ex-offenders from 'second prison''. Print Edition | Subscribe