Women's prison focuses on emotional support

President Halimah Yacob and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo looking at artwork made by some of the female inmates. With them are Superintendent of Institution A4 Lam Mong Teng and Commissioner of Prisons Desmond Chin.
President Halimah Yacob and Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo looking at artwork made by some of the female inmates. With them are Superintendent of Institution A4 Lam Mong Teng and Commissioner of Prisons Desmond Chin.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

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

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

The 32-year-old, whose son visits her in prison, said:"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 fault, and I can understand that he does not feel a bond with me."

Nora, whose release date is slated for some time next year, said she will do all she can to rebuild those bonds when she is reunited with her son.

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

At a visit to the facility yesterday, 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 reoffending; for that you will need very effective rehabilitation programmes.

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

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

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 who is 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 most of the women in the institution are there for drug-related offences.

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

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

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

Nora said that while it will not be easy, she feels what she has learnt in prison will help her cope better with stress and not resort to drugs.

She added that a source of encouragement is her fellow inmates. "Some of the women have children around the same age as mine and we have plans to meet up when we are out, do healthy things like take our children to the park, look out for each other and keep each other from going back to drugs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2018, with the headline 'Women's prison focuses on emotional support'. Print Edition | Subscribe