More community involvement needed to deter inmates from reoffending

More community involvement and tougher measures are in the pipeline to help reduce recidivism amid a rise in the reoffending rate of released inmates. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
More community involvement and tougher measures are in the pipeline to help reduce recidivism amid a rise in the reoffending rate of released inmates. -- ST FILE PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

More community involvement and tougher measures are in the pipeline to help reduce recidivism amid a rise in the reoffending rate of released inmates.

Statistics released by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) on Tuesday showed that 27.4 per cent of inmates released in 2011 committed another offence within two years of their release, up from 23.6 per cent for the 2010 cohort. This means about one in four inmates fall back to their old ways - a level that has remained stable over the years, said the SPS.

Among the 2011 cohort of inmates in drug rehabilitation centres, the recidivism rate was higher as well at 31.1 per cent, from 27.5 per cent for the 2010 cohort.

To deter inmates from reoffending, various amendments were made to the Prison Act last month including the introduction of the Conditional Remission System. Currently, well-behaved inmates can be released without any conditions after serving two-thirds of their sentence. Under the new system, inmates who are released early and later commit an offence while in remission, may face an additional sentence on top of the one imposed for the new offence.

The Mandatory Aftercare Scheme will also be introduced for inmates deemed to be at a higher risk of re-offending, due to their poor attitude towards rehabilitation or the seriousness of their crime. The scheme will last up to two years, with former inmates being placed on programmes such as halfway house stays and home supervision.

To help inmates integrate back into society, the SPS offered 24,404 places for academic and vocational training last year, almost 5,000 more than in 2012. Such measures have paid off, with 2,114 inmates finding jobs before their release last year, up from 1,708 in 2012. More employers are giving ex-inmates a second chance, with over 3,000 employers registered in the database of the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises as of last year.

Superintendent of Prisons 1A Abdul Karim Shahul Hameed said the first six months after inmates are released from prison are critical in determining whether they will reoffend. "Do they have a place to stay? A job? Necessary money to survive? Our focus has always been to do more in this area," said Supt Karim, who is also deputy director of SPS' Reintegration and Community Collaboration Services. "And we're really looking at doing more to get community support and more volunteers to come around and help us."

Such community efforts are on the rise. The number of volunteers involved in the Yellow Ribbon Community Project - a grassroots-led initiative to help inmates and their families - has grown in the past few years.

Last year, there were 526 volunteers helping out in the project, more than doubled from 221 in 2011. The number of families they have assisted jumped from 226 to 1,569 over the period.

One such volunteer is, Ms Edna Tan, 52, who was a former chairman of her Residents' Committee in Admiralty. Ms Tan urged people to help inmates - who are often the sole family breadwinners - get back on their feet again.

"Society has to accept them, no matter how good the programmes the prisons have in place," she said. "People out there have to accept them, or they'll go back to their old friends."

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