Connecting Hearts, Strengthening Communities

Mr Soh Wai Wah, Director of Prisons,

Mr Chng Hwee Hong, Chairman SCORE,

Parliamentary Colleagues,

Yellow Ribbon Grassroots Volunteers,

Community Partners,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to be with you for today’s appreciation event for the grassroots divisions and volunteers involved in the Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP). To all the volunteers present, I want to thank you for your dedication in reaching out to the families of inmates, and helping them through a difficult time in their lives.

Prison’s Throughcare Approach

2. The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) adopts a ‘throughcare’ strategy in its efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders. This means efforts to help them begin from the time they are in prison, through to and after their release and return to society. In particular, SPS has been strengthening its aftercare programmes to provide greater support for ex-inmates after their release from prisons.

3. One new initiative is the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, or MAS for short, which will come into effect later this year. The MAS is a structured aftercare system for selected groups of ex-inmates: those who are at higher risk of re-offending or who need greater support in reintegration. It will involve closer monitoring and supervision as well as enhanced community support, counselling and case management after their release.

4. In addition, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, or SCORE, offers skills training, aftercare support and job placement assistance. In 2013, SCORE placed over 5,800 offenders on its employment and reintegration programmes, and helped more than 2,100 offenders to secure jobs upon their release – these are about twice the numbers five years ago (in 2008).

5. For such aftercare efforts to be successful, it is critical that the ex-inmate has the moral and emotional support of his or her family, and is accepted by the community. In particular, it is critical that family bonds are maintained during the offender’s time in prison, and that the family itself stays intact. If we keep the family intact and keep family bonds strong, it gives inmates the peace of mind and motivation to change and improve themselves. On the other hand, family break-ups are often traumatising, and greatly hamper rehabilitation.

Volunteers play a key complementary role

6. This is why our grassroots-led effort to reach out to the families of inmates and offer them moral and social support is crucial. The volunteers, including the many who are here today, spend time with families, help them to come to terms with their loved ones’ incarceration, minimise disruptions to the children’s education and link the family to community resources or agencies for financial or social assistance. Such support is especially important when the inmate is the sole breadwinner or is the primary caregiver in the family.

7. Working in partnership, SPS and various grassroots divisions have also set up video-link facilities at several Community Clubs and Family Service Centres, to provide an alternative near the home for inmates and their loved ones to keep in touch. The latest two divisions to come onboard this video-link initiative were Kembangan-Chai Chee and Taman Jurong.

8. The YRCP started in September 2010 with only eight grassroots divisions. Today, I am glad that we now have 61 participating divisions. The number of trained grassroots volunteers has also nearly tripled from 221 in 2011 to 610 in 2014, and these volunteers have engaged more than 1,700 families.

9. It is not just the numbers, but the commitment to come together to do something good and real for the families, and to learn from each other. In the video a short while ago, we heard from volunteers like Sharon Wong, the Yellow Ribbon Champion from Woodgrove Division. We will also hear soon from a family member who received support, Mdm Fauziyah, from Tampines Changkat, and I would like to applaud her fortitude in taking care of her brother’s family besides her own when he was imprisoned, and her courage in agreeing to speak to us.

10. We have learnt a fair bit on this journey, as volunteers. Most of us do not have experience of having a close family being incarcerated. Speaking from our experience in Taman Jurong, let me say that we have to start with the humility of knowing that we have not been there ourselves. There is a second thing that we have learnt too, and that is the potential to do good that we have in ex-inmates themselves, and the family members who have gone through the turmoil of having a loved one in prison. One of our most active and compassionate groups of volunteers, Beacon of Life (started by two ex-inmates, Kim Whye Kee and Darren Tan) mainly comprises ex-inmates who are determined to help other ex-inmates to obtain and make the most of second chances, and help youth of school-going age avoid taking the wrong turn in the road.

Expanding YRCP

11. For the volunteers from the 61 divisions participating in the YRCP, I would like to commend you for going out of your way to help the families of inmates when they need it most. I would also like to encourage other divisions to come onboard, so that all 87 grassroots divisions eventually participate in this meaningful effort and we can reach out to more inmates and families in need.

Conclusion

12. On this note, let me express my thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the success of the YRCP, and to making Singapore a home where people have second chances to start afresh and make good.