Volunteers lauded for helping inmates and their families

When he was just released from the Reformative Training Centre in Changi Prison Complex around five years ago, Mr Joe Daniel Austin felt "condemned" by society - but was greatly encouraged by the support of a grassroots volunteer.

"He was a very good friend to me, and always available when I wanted to talk," said Mr Austin, who is now 25 and works as an account assistant in non-profit organisation Tasek Jurong.

The volunteer gave Mr Austin advice on his future plans, including how to start a social enterprise, which he was interested in.

Around a year ago, Mr Austin joined the ranks of other volunteers with the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP). He hopes to pay it forward and be a good influence, providing moral support to other former offenders.

As of last month, 945 volunteers have been trained to reach out to more than 5,700 families of inmates. This is an increase from 898 volunteers and 5,127 families last year, according to numbers from the Singapore Prison Service.

When the YRCP first started in 2010, it had 58 trained volunteers reaching out to 78 families.

  • 945

    Number of volunteers, as of last month, who have been trained to reach out to more than 5,700 families of inmates.

This project sees volunteers visiting an inmate's family members with his or her consent, to identify their needs and help with referrals or other forms of support.

"Sometimes, an ex-offender relapses because he feels that the community does not welcome him, and goes back to his old circle of friends," said Mr Austin, adding that he used to be self-conscious about mixing with others, and worry that they would think differently of him if they found out he had been in jail.

Yesterday, 30 YRCP volunteers received plaques and certificates for their contributions at an annual appreciation luncheon at the Singapore Expo that was attended by over 350 people. Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing, who was at the event, said: "The programme has expanded because we all realised that in helping an offender, the work does not start when the jail term ends."

Families tend to need help almost immediately, and if this is not done well, it could lead to more problems. He said: "The most difficult part, and perhaps the most important, is to help the next generation not to fall into the same trap."

Ten new divisions, including Toa Payoh Central and Ulu Pandan, came on board the project this year.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Volunteers lauded for helping inmates and their families'. Print Edition | Subscribe