SINGAPORE - Inmates can now participate in educational and training activities in the community near the end of their sentence if they are found suitable.
This will be offered alongside work opportunities under the new Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS), which is part of amendments made to the Prisons Act passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 11).
Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim told Parliament that EmPS will replace the Work Release Scheme (WRS), which had an average two-year recidivism rate of 15 per cent for those released between 2014 and 2018, compared with 24 per cent for the general inmate population, but allowed inmates to be released only for work.
Inmates found suitable for EmPS will start with an in-camp phase in a work release centre run by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).
Associate Professor Faishal said: "The inmates may work, upskill themselves through training, or pursue their education outside prison during the day. They will return to reside at the work release centre in the evening."
Those who show good progress will be allowed to go home to their families on weekends and may be allowed to return home daily should they continue to progress.
Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) asked Prof Faishal about the types of training and education under the EmPS.
He replied that Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) will engage approved training organisations, and continuing education and training centres to provide skills training for inmates.
He added: "YRSG is curating a set of critical core skills modules for inmates on the EmPS to help them better adapt to the workplace and enhance their employability."
Formulated by SkillsFuture Singapore, the modules comprise 16 competencies that workplaces deem most essential.
Responding to several MPs' questions on the cost of training, Prof Faishal said inmates need not pay for the courses as there is a national subsidy of 70 per cent to 90 per cent, with the remainder borne by YRSG.
Asked if there are plans to engage more employers, Prof Faishal said YRSG actively engages trade associations and chambers, industry stakeholders and employers to ensure adequate job opportunities for inmates upon their release.
More than 5,600 employers currently partner YRSG to offer jobs to former offenders.
Inmates who work under EmPS will be assigned a career coach for up to 12 months even if the emplacement period is less than a year.
Workers' Party's Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) asked how companies will be selected and work conditions regulated to ensure fairness and worker dignity.
Prof Faishal said: "YRSG requires partnering employers to fulfil certain criteria. These include abiding by fair employment practices, providing Central Provident Fund contributions for employees, adopting supportive work practices, and providing market-relevant salaries, including aligning salaries with the Progressive Wage Model."
Mr Sharael and Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang) asked about the eligibility for the EmPS in terms of offence committed and what can be done to mitigate the risk of reoffending.
Prof Faishal said that while those who had committed Second Schedule offences, which include violent offences, are disqualified from the Home Detention Scheme - where inmates can serve the tail end of their sentence at home - deserving offenders may be given a chance to take part in EmPS.
But, he said, there will be thorough screening.
"Every inmate considered for the EmPS will be thoroughly screened and SPS will take into consideration their response to rehabilitation and conduct in prison, as part of its assessment. Only when it is assessed that they do not present a significant threat to public safety, will they be considered for emplacement."
Inmates not selected for the scheme can appeal by approaching the superintendent of prison or the Board of Visiting Justices, said Prof Faishal in response to a question by Mr Perera.
Inmates under EmPS will be closely supervised by the SPS and must comply with strict conditions such as electronic tagging, curfew and reporting to mitigate the risk of reoffending.
Asked by Mr Yip if inmates can be identified when they attend classes, Prof Faishal said inmates will attend classes with members of the public and they will not have any identifiers.
He said those who wear an electronic tag on the ankle may cover it with trousers or a long skirt.
He added: "SPS is currently developing a tracking device that resembles a digital watch which can be worn on the wrist. More discreet than the ankle tag, it reduces stigmatisation and boosts the inmates' self-confidence."