Social support to be stepped up to help ex-offenders reintegrate into society

Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim (centre) at the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders Network's 20th anniversary event. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - New measures to strengthen aftercare agencies and upskill volunteers so they can be better equipped to help former offenders rehabilitate and reintegrate into society were announced on Friday (Dec 11).

The stepped up support was announced by Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim at the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (Care) Network's 20th anniversary event.

The network, which comprises more than 100 community partners, was set up in 2000 to coordinate aftercare rehabilitation and reintegration services.

Speaking at the event, Associate Professor Faishal said: "Looking ahead to the next 20 years, the vision of the Care Network remains the same: To provide hope, confidence and opportunities for ex-offenders, so that they are able to turn away from crime and find a new lease of life.

"The immediate years after an offender's release are crucial. The real test of an offender's transformation is not in prison, but in the community where he faces temptations and challenges, as well as difficulties," he added.

One of the new measures will be the introduction of an Aftercare Competency Framework, which aims to professionalise the sector, by identifying the core competencies required for aftercare professionals like case workers and channelling them to training sources.

New introductory training modules will be developed for professionals who are new to the aftercare sector to bridge competency gaps, while volunteers with the network can look forward to training opportunities that will equip them with the skills to effectively support former offenders. The plans will be rolled out over the next few years.

Said Prof Faishal: "It is important for you to understand the landscape as well as look at different models, so that you can better adapt your approach based on the context, because every person, every family is different. With such knowledge, you will be better equipped."

The network will also strengthen the rehabilitation and reintegration journey for former offenders by smoothening the handing and taking over of cases between agencies.

In his speech, Prof Faishal noted the significant drop in the two-year recidivism rate for offenders released in 2017 - from 40 per cent to 24 per cent - since the network was formed in 2000.

"The next 20 years will be equally, if not, more challenging, and will require fresh ideas and approaches, but anchored on the same dedicated spirit of the Care Network. I look forward to working with the Care Network towards reducing re-offending and reintegrating ex-offenders back into the society," he said.

Case worker Halimatus Sa'adiah Numan, 26, said that support for children's education and caregiving needs go a long way in helping families stay afloat.

"Every case is different and it is extremely important for a case worker to be present. Sometimes you may have a point of contact, but you don't know the family well enough for them to build trust and open up to you. It's important to establish the trust and show how you care for them," she said.

Former offender Sabrina Chong Abdullah, 43, credits the social support she received after she completed her sentence in 2012 for helping her avoid relapse and re-establishing ties with her family. The mother of six, a former drug addict, took up baking with a social enterprise set up for former offenders as part of her recovery process and is now a home-based baker.

Said Ms Sabrina: "My journey has not been a smooth one, the early years after coming out of prison were especially rocky and I was close to relapsing. But thankfully, my children and the social workers were there to support me.

"Like me, I know other offenders also wish to change, what they need is the right people to guide them. When I wanted to go back to drugs, I remembered my children's' faces, and that gave me the strength to stay away."

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