Women's prison facility offers special rehabilitation programmes to inmates

Ms Charlotte Stephen (in pink), 46, senior assistant director and correctional rehabilitation specialist, with 32-year-old Nora (not her real name) at Changi Prison Complex's Institution A4, Singapore's only all-women institution.
Ms Charlotte Stephen (in pink), 46, senior assistant director and correctional rehabilitation specialist, with 32-year-old Nora (not her real name) at Changi Prison Complex's Institution A4, Singapore's only all-women institution.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - She has been in prison for most of her young son's life.

Nora (not her real name), was convicted of drug use charges three years ago, when her son was a year old.

The 32-year-old, whose son visits her in prison, said: "He still recognises me as his mother, running up to me and giving me a hug.

"When he called me 'ibu' (Malay for mother), it was a very touching moment. But when I asked if he wanted to stay with me jokingly, he said he wanted to go with 'nenek' (Nora's mother-in-law).

"It was quite hurtful but I know that it is my own fault, and I can understand that he does not feel a bond with me."

Nora, whose release date is slated for sometime next year, said that she will do all she can to rebuild those bonds when she is reunited with him.

She, along with about 1,200 other women of varying ages, is held at Changi Prison Complex's Institution A4, Singapore's only all-women institution.

At a visit to the facility on Wednesday (July 25),President Halimah Yacob said: "I met many of the inmates, and they told me that the support of their families is really something that keeps them going in the recovery process.

"We know that incarceration is necessary for those who have committed offences, but incarceration by itself is not sufficient to prevent recidivism and prevent re-offending, for that you will need very effective rehabilitation programmes.

"It has been shown that effective rehabilitation programmes reduce the rate of re-offending. For instance, among the women inmates about 21-22 per cent re-offend within a period of two years."

She said that it was in part due to a number of rehabilitation issues, such as an inability to find employment or community support.

Madam Halimah also said: "After visiting today, my message to young women and girls is to keep away from drugs and gangsterism."

She said that while the teenage years, especially for girls, can be difficult and volatile and drugs or gangsterism might seem to provide comfort, they are very hard to get out of.

The women's prison has targeted, gender-specific programmes designed to rehabilitate female inmates, with a larger focus on emotional well-being, community and family than those for their male counterparts.

Ms Charlotte Stephen, 46, senior assistant director and correctional rehabilitation specialist, said: "Women tend to have more emotional needs, they are better able to support each other and require more community and group support."

Superintendent 1A Angeline Chua, 41, second superintendent at Institution A4 and also a mother, said: "For women, the closeness to their children and the mother's bond is very important and impossible to describe or replace."

Supt 1A Chua said that most of the women in the institution are there for drug-related offences.

Ms Stephen said: "With women here, often they come with troubled backgrounds, and in working with them, the officers and counsellors need to understand trauma and be sensitive to the needs of the women."

The institution is run by an all-female officer team. Special programmes include one that addresses criminal attitudes and behaviour known as 4C.

Inmates are also offered vocational courses like baking and hairdressing, along with the usual education courses such as a condensed N-level programme.

Nora, who also has an estranged son from her previous marriage, said that while it will not be easy, she feels that the skills and coping techniques she has learnt in prison will help her cope better with stress, and not resort to drugs as an escape.

Nora said: "When I started to take drugs, it was because I did not know how to manage my feelings and thoughts, it became very easy whenever I was feeling sad or upset to just take drugs. But when I go back out, I will really want to give my son the best, all the love I never got from my father."

She said that 4C has enabled her to better manage her emotions, and even attain her N-level certification, something she was unable to achieve before.

With her husband and older sister also in prison, Nora said that money is a big concern for her family.

One of the top three scorers from her N-level batch in prison school, Nora is now pursuing her O-levels, and says she hopes this will help her get a better job when she is released. She also wants to continue her studies to specialise in early childhood care.

She said: "My mother was diagnosed with a stroke in 2016, and it has been a struggle for my family to cope with money.

"When I was in secondary one, I dropped out of school, but when I came to prison, I told myself I will get my certification."

Nora added that a source of encouragement within the prison is her fellow inmates.

She said: "Some of the women also have children around the same age as mine, and we have plans to meet up when we are out, to do healthy things like take our children to the park together, and look out for each other and keep each other from going back to drugs."