SINGAPORE - Over 40 per cent of offenders released in 2013 returned to prison within five years, it was revealed on Friday (June 28), with Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam calling the figure a "cause for concern".
While noting that Singapore's overall recidivism rate is better than many other countries, the minister, speaking at a seminar on aftercare efforts for ex-offenders, said there is room for improvement.
According to additional statistics released to The Straits Times by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), the five-year recidivism rate saw a slight dip for inmates who were released in 2013, compared to the previous two cohorts.
Forty-one per cent of inmates released in 2013 reoffended within five years, down from 43 per cent for inmates released in 2011 and 2012.
Mr Shanmugam said inmates who are released often find themselves without the social support needed to reintegrate into society, and may also face family troubles as well as difficulty in finding jobs.
Apart from rehabilitating offenders during their time in prison, he added that there are two other important periods of intervention: before the crime is committed, and after the inmate is released.
He noted that there are predictive tools that can indicate those who are likely to offend so that help can be given before they turn to crime.
In addition, when inmates are released from prison, support from the Government, partner agencies and organisations as well as the community can reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Highlighting the work of partners in the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (Care) Network and the SPS, the minister said religious groups have played an important role in reintegrating ex-offenders.
For example, if an inmate receiving religious counselling from the Christian voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) Prison Fellowship Singapore (PFS) is going to be released, the group will match him to a suitable church community. If required, the group will also have people ready to meet the inmate in person at the prison gate when he is released.
Mr Shanmugam also cited the Fitrah office which was set up by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), which provides support for inmates and their families through religious and family-based programmes, financial assistance and befriending services.
Such inmates will receive a package containing an information kit, grocery vouchers and an ez-link card before they are released.
"For an offender leaving prison, these things can make a huge difference," said Mr Shanmugam.
Currently, SPS works with 12 religious VWOs, with about 1,200 volunteers from the major faiths.
Executive director of PFS, Mr Andrew Tay, said the group's objective is to form a new community for each ex-offender to support them along their journey of reintegration.
"This is a journey for them and not an easy one," said Mr Tay.
"What we believe in is to build a village around each ex-offender. You can tell them or coerce them to change, and they might, but it will be to a limited effect. You need something from within themselves to want to change, and so that sense of community is very important."