SINGAPORE - Members of the public here will be given the chance to weigh in on strategies to help former offenders stay on the right path and not return to a life of crime during a three-day virtual summit which kicked off on Tuesday (July 13).
The event is organised by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (Care) Network and about 500 participants, including university students and faculty members, are expected to tune in.
Discussions will cover topics such as employment for former offenders, support for their families, and catering to the needs of different groups of former offenders such as youth, the elderly and those with mental-health concerns.
The dialogue sessions are part of the network's efforts to adopt a whole-of-community approach to help former offenders rehabilitate and reintegrate into society.
During her opening address at the launch of the summit on Tuesday, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo discussed initiatives to strengthen support for ex-offenders and their families beyond employment opportunities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This past year has been challenging for all of us. This includes ex-offenders and their families, who must navigate their rehabilitation and reintegration journey through evolving challenges posed by the pandemic.
"Care Network's next horizon is about supporting ex-offenders to stay crime-free over the longer term. Today, about four in 10 ex-offenders go back to prison within five years of release. We must do more to improve this five-year recidivism rate," she said.
Mrs Teo, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, highlighted the key areas the network had focused on in the past year following a 2019 review that examined initiatives to further reduce the recidivism rate.
In order to advance the capabilities of agencies and individuals in the network, a framework was launched in April 2020, which curates suitable training courses for professionals such as social workers, case managers and volunteers, to equip them with the right tools to support their clients.
And to further strengthen reintegration and support for inmates during their time in prison and after, two of the network's partners - the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and the Industrial & Services Co-operative Society - launched a programme in January to encourage former offenders to embrace interest groups such as Break the Cycle SG and Canvas Arts.
Counsellor Ranjit Singh from the National Addictions Management Service at the Institute of Mental Health was one of the members of the working group that made recommendations as part of the review to tackle recidivism.
Mr Singh turned to drugs when he was 19 years old. In his 30s, he enrolled himself in The Helping Hand halfway house to overcome his drug addiction. Now, at 59, he draws on his own experience when engaging patients as an addiction counsellor.
Said Mr Singh: "I was able to turn my life around during my time at the halfway house. But we need as many diverse resources as possible to help former addicts in their recovery process. So, besides the halfway houses and de-addiction centres, pro-social groups is a ground-up idea where individuals who are interested in helping others in their recovery come together."
He added: "Recovery is all about finding meaning and purpose, and interest groups - like a sports group or arts group - can help former addicts cope."
Since its inception in 2000, Care Network has been expanding its reach to more community partners over the years, including a collaboration set up this February between the Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF) and the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) to provide financial assistance to selected inmates who qualify for the Singapore University of Social Sciences degree programmes offered in Prison School.
The YRF- SFCCA STAR Bursary supports up to 100 per cent of course fees for eligible inmates pursuing tertiary education and has supported 11 inmates as at April this year.
Other community partners the network is working with include non-profit group AMP - formerly known as the Association of Muslim Professionals - and the Singapore Indian Development Association.
Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Singapore and co-chairman of the Care Network Chng Hwee Hong said: "Just as the saying goes, 'It takes a village to raise a child', we can also build a conducive and supportive environment which encourages ex-offenders to take ownership of their reintegration and inspire others along the way, through collaborations with existing and new partners in government, corporate supporters and the larger community.
"The power of community action is immense and amplified when we can include more from society in helping ex-offenders on their journey."