Singapore: recidivism rate at all-time low, more inmates serving part of jail term in community

The recidivism rate in Singapore has dipped to an all-time low and more inmates are serving part of their jail term in the community, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) said on Wednesday (Feb 3).

According to the latest annual statistics released by SPS, the overall recidivism rate for the 2018 release cohort was 22.1 per cent, down from 24 per cent in 2017 and 23.7 per cent in 2016. This is the lowest it has been since the 1990 release cohort, SPS said. Before this, the lowest rate was 23.6 per cent, from the 2010 release cohort. Recidivism rate refers to the percentage of local offenders who were detained, jailed or sentenced to day reporting order within two years of their release. SPS said it uses a two-year period to measure recidivism, aligned with international benchmarks, to allow for “meaningful comparison across time and jurisdictions”. “The two-year recidivism rate is also a more sensitive measure of the effectiveness of our regimes as an ex-offender’s behaviour would tend to be more influenced by environmental factors after the two-year mark,” it added. “This measure thus helps us to better evaluate sentencing policies as well as the programmes designed to reduce re-offending.”

Meanwhile, a total of 3,426 inmates were placed on community corrections last year, up from 2,415 in 2019 and 1,998 in 2018. The current figure is the highest ever, SPS said. Community corrections comprise community-based programmes, community-based sentences and the mandatory aftercare scheme. Inmates under these programmes serve at least some part of their jail term in the community. Research has shown that rehabilitation is more effective in a real-world setting, as it allows offenders to face and tackle real-life stressors, SPS said in a news release on Wednesday.

The support given to offenders who are back in the community was a contributory factor in the low recidivism rate, said SPS’ director of corporate communications and relations Assistant Commissioner of Prisons (AC) Rafidah Suparman. She highlighted the important roles of reintegration officers, career coaches, community partners and family members in this process.

“We recognise that family is key in the inmates’ reintegration,” she said, noting that the introduction of family programmes has helped inmates with strained family relationships. “Over time, there are a few cases where the relationship between the inmate and family member has improved. So, that actually contributed also to the successful reintegration of the inmate.”

Inmates who have been assessed to be suitable can serve the remaining two-thirds of their sentence in community-based programmes. This depends on factors like responsiveness towards rehabilitation programmes, conduct and progress in prison, family support and reintegration plans. Community-based programmes comprise three schemes. The home detention scheme allows offenders with family and community support to serve the rest of their sentence at home under specified conditions, including work or education if suitable and electronic monitoring to abide by a curfew. The halfway house scheme puts offenders who want to change but require more support in one of eight halfway houses, where they go through structured rehabilitation programmes and get a job if suitable. Some are allowed to go home during the weekend.

The work release scheme is for offenders who lack family support or a conducive family environment, and require them to be engaged in work productively and reside at the Selarang Park Complex after work hours. Prison officials said these schemes help prevent re-offending by letting inmates gradually get used to the outside world and apply coping skills learnt in prison, especially since they face challenges with things like housing, bills and relationships. “The only way they know how to cope is to go back to, maybe, substance abuse,” said correctional rehabilitation specialist Chief Warder 2 (CW2) Sadhana Rai, 36. “It is a way to avoid the issue.”

During community-based programmes, case officers are patient with supervisees getting used to their new surroundings. Those who struggle with issues are reminded of coping skills, like doing a cost-benefit analysis before committing a potential crime.

“It’s to give them that space and to always believe in them and tell them that you can do what you want to do,” CW2 Rai added. “You want to achieve something, go for it.”

One supervisee knows first-hand how community-based programmes can make a difference, having completed three previous stints in jail without being placed in the programmes. “Before this, when I was released from prison I was totally free,” said Irfan (not his real name), a 38-year-old drug offender who was put under the halfway house scheme last September and will be released in February next year. “This time round I feel like I’m half free, but another half still needs to stick by the rules. It is very good for me because if you are straight away free, you won’t think of anything. After I finish my community-based programme I still know that I have to stick by the rules.”

At the Pertapis Halfway House, Irfan said he learnt to be more positive and adapt better to changes. He has also participated in its community initiatives and recently started work as an attendant at a logistics company. Another supervisee who just completed his residential scheme on Tuesday said the community-based programme has helped him find the confidence and motivation to pursue a law diploma before eventually getting a degree to practise law. First-time offender Ethan (not his real name), 32, used to intern at a law firm until he was “derailed” by taking drugs. In prison, he had grappled with his plans after being released. “When I came out, I was a bit lost, then I spoke to my counsellor,” he said. “She told me to pursue something that I like and would find satisfaction in, which made me want to continue pursuing law.”