Offenders' families to get $50 booster packs

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks at the Yellow Ribbon Community Project awards and appreciation luncheon at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo, on Sept 15, 2018.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks at the Yellow Ribbon Community Project awards and appreciation luncheon at the Max Atria at Singapore Expo, on Sept 15, 2018.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - About 900 families of offenders will be helped to meet household needs this year through a "booster pack" of items worth $50, including vouchers and food.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the volunteers' efforts in distributing the packs will be "an added opportunity" to show the families of inmates that the community cares for them.

The packs, an initiative started by the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and Singapore Prison Service, will also contain an origami butterfly with a motivational message.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking on Saturday (Sept 15) at the Yellow Ribbon Community Project Awards and Appreciation Luncheon, which recognises the work of grassroots volunteers in helping families of inmates and ex-offenders.

Since 2010, the Project has trained more than 900 grassroots volunteers and helped more than 9,000 families of offenders.

Volunteers visit the families to find out their needs and concerns, from financial assistance to making sure their children are in school to housing and job issues.

They also help to link families to social support networks.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugam also highlighted how families are often affected by drug abuse, citing the example of a female drug abuser arrested two weeks ago here who has a three-month-old daughter.

More than 80 per cent of the 9,000 offenders in the prison system have drug antecedents, he said. "For every offender, a family is suffering because of the offender's drug abuse."

He spoke at length about key factors that have led to the opioid crisis and growing cannabis problem in the United States, reiterating Singapore's zero-tolerance drug stance.

He said that Singapore's stance is clear - drug traffickers face a death penalty and it is illegal to use controlled drugs.

Almost 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in the US in 2016 - equivalent to 175 people a day. Every 25 minutes, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal.

Mr Shanmugam said the pharmaceutical industry has a key role to play.

"Big pharma companies have irresponsibly pushed addictive opioids into the homes of millions of Americans," he said, giving the example of Purdue Pharma which deliberately marketed OxyContin for years as a harmless painkiller when it is an addictive opioid.

Cannabis lobbyists argue that businesses should earn money from the legal consumption of the drug instead of the black market, so that taxes from it can help people, he said.

"Government becomes beholden to industry, pretends that the interests of the companies that fund them are also the common interests, and what is best for the man on the street," he added.

He said that the dubious research, along with some media outlets, have also helped to perpetuate the impression that drugs like cannabis are not just harmless, but beneficial.

"The US experience shows if we are not firm, clear-minded, deliberate in our actions, drug abuse will grow insidiously, until one day it spirals out of control and society is torn apart," he said.