Ex-convicts who have turned lives around will support those still rehabilitating: Faishal

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim launches the Heritage Gallery on June 17, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - A new community mobilisation plan, which involves community partners and former offenders, will be introduced in a bid to reduce longer-term reoffending rates here.

Former convicts who have turned their lives around will provide support to those who are still rehabilitating, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim on Friday (June 17) at the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) corporate advance, where he set a challenge to lower the five-year reoffending rate.

Associate Professor Faishal, who was the guest of honour at the event held at SPS headquarters, said: "(These former convicts) have been through the journey themselves. They therefore understand the challenges faced, and support required by (other) ex-offenders after release."

Mr Benny Se Teo, 62, co-founder of Eighteen Chefs, lauded the initiative, saying: "This will definitely be beneficial for prisoners, especially those who do not have family support. And even if they do have family support, it will be good for them to get guidance from ex-offenders. It will get them to think, if this person can succeed, why can't I?"

Mr Teo is a former drug addict and was known for hiring former offenders and troubled youth to work at his restaurant.

Mr Teo, who retired last year, told The Straits Times: "In fact, this initiative reminds me of how and why I started Eighteen Chefs in 2007. An ex-offender knows and can understand another ex-offender. We're able to relate to each other and help one another."

Mr Freddy Wee, 68, deputy director of drug rehabilitation halfway house Breakthrough Missions, said while the new initiative will be beneficial, its success hinges on how open the inmates are to receiving advice.

The former drug addict, who has been clean for more than 40 years, added: "There should also be some guidelines on what ex-convicts are advised to talk about. They can perhaps talk about how they reintegrated to society, how family relationships can be reconciled and even career prospects. This will help the inmates look forward to a meaningful life after prison time."

Prof Faishal noted that 20 per cent of those who were freed in 2019 were detained, sentenced to jail, or given a day reporting order within two years of their release.

The figure - the two-year reoffending rate - is the lowest in 30 years in Singapore and one of the lowest in the world, he said.

Prof Faishal added: "We have done well in the two-year (reoffending) rate, and it is time for us to set a more ambitious target. We should aim to reduce the five-year (reoffending) rate."

The five-year reoffending rate measures how well a former offender can stay away from crime in the longer term.

"It was at 41 per cent last year for the 2016 release cohort. This meant about two in five ex-offenders had reoffended and (were) readmitted to prison within five years," he said.

"This is our next challenge. And I am confident we can do it."

Speaking to the media at the event, Mr Tan Yick Loong, YRSG assistant director of partnership, said: "(Bringing down the five-year reoffending rate) is definitely a challenge, but it is doable.

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (left) listens to a guided tour at the Singapore Prison Service Headquarters. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

"On the part of YRSG, we will help by giving ex-offenders and inmates good employment opportunities, namely through skills training, so that when they go out into the community, they are able to land good jobs and subsequently gain a good footing in the community."

Prof Faishal also unveiled The SPS Heritage Gallery on Friday. It documents the progression of the corrections landscape in Singapore from the 1800s till the present day. It will be open for visits by students by the end of the year.

To bring together stakeholders who support its cause, YRSG has launched the Friends of YRSG channel on the Telegram mobile messaging app, where the public can get the latest news, volunteering opportunities and events.

"As we expand our outreach through this channel, we hope to be able to reach out to the nation and provide more second chances for ex-offenders," said Mr Tan.

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