Record high number of offenders in community corrections in 2020

There were 3,426 offenders placed on community corrections last year. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Ethan was still serving his year-long jail sentence for drug consumption when his stepfather spoke his last words to him.

The man who had cancer, sternly warned the 32-year-old not to land himself behind bars again after this first offence.

The conversation took place at home, as Ethan (not his real name) was allowed to serve part of his sentence at his place of residence.

"Before he passed on, he told me, 'How many more times do you want to go into prison? Make sure this is the last time. I don't want to see you go to prison again,'" said Ethan.

"These words were very impactful. It made me very determined not to go back to my old ways again, and to really start a new journey in life," he said, recalling the conversation that took place during his Singapore Prison Service (SPS) community-based programme.

His stepfather died three weeks after he started the programme, in August last year.

As at Wednesday (Feb 3), Ethan is a free man. He is currently enrolled in a law diploma programme, which he hopes to use for community work and pro bono services.

His correctional rehabilitation specialist is Chief Warder 2 Sadhana Rai, who encouraged him during his seven-month community-based programme when he felt unmotivated.

"A lot of the time when (the offenders) are out, it's a new environment. There are a lot of changes that they need to adapt to... (We) give them that space, and always believe in them," she said.

Ethan is one of the 3,426 offfenders placed on community corrections last year - a 42 per cent increase from 2019, the SPS said on Thursday.

This is believed to be the highest number ever, and they account for about 27 per cent of the total 12,668 offender population last year.

Community corrections comprise community-based programmes, mandatory aftercare, and community-based sentences.

Suitable offenders on community-based programmes are allowed to serve the tail-end of their sentence in the community, with conditions imposed, such as electronic tagging and regular reporting to a reintegration officer.

The schemes include home detention, staying at a halfway house as well as work release, where offenders stay at Selarang Park Complex after work hours.

This approach reduces their risk of re-offending, said the SPS.

Correctional rehabilitation specialist Sadhana Rai (left) with Ethan, 32, who completed a community-based programme on Feb 3, 2021. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The latest figures also showed a positive trend, with more offenders staying on the right side of the law in the first two years after their release. The overall recidivism rates hit a record-low of 22.1 per cent for the cohort released in 2018.

Irfan (not his real name), a four-time drug consumption offender now on a community-based programme, said that the counselling provided by the programme offers has helped him keep a positive attitude while adhering to the rules.

He now works as an attendant at a logistics company as part of a halfway house scheme. It is his first time on such a programme.

He said he is determined to provide for his four children, aged between two and 10. "When I transition to (the halfway house), there are certain rules, so from then I learnt to follow them... I'm now 38 years old and I feel there is nothing to be proud of because I have no CPF income and don't have a house," he said.

"This time round, I feel that I don't want to waste my time inside prison, because I need to be a good father to my kids."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.