Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC on the Private Members Motion: Strengthening Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs
Madam, I rise in support of the motion. In particular, I would like to focus on how we need to improve our rehabilitation process and how we need to strengthen our focus on family support during the rehabilitation process.
Majority of offenders are repeat offenders
While we strengthen our fight against drug consumption and ensure that people don’t consume drugs in the first place. We must remember that almost 60% of drug abusers arrested are repeat offenders. That’s almost two thirds and if we can improve our rehabilitation process, then we will effectively solve two thirds of our problem.
Our current rehabilitation process
I raised this previously during the COS debates and I said that “A significant focus of the rehabilitation process is to ensure that inmates are able to secure a job when they are released. However, I feel that an equally important factor is whether they have family support when they are released.”
Parliamentary Secretary Amrin replied that the “Singapore Prison Service (SPS) partners with Fei Yue Family Services and Lakeside Family Services to provide structured family programmes for inmates –workshops to help better understand the impact of their crimes on their families and build their parenting and communication skills.
The Prison Service also works with community partners like the Salvation Army to conduct family sessions in prison. During these sessions, family members are allowed to enter Prison to spend time with the inmates, and they are designed to encourage bonding between inmates and their children, and they serve as powerful reminders to inmates that they need to turn their lives around. These family sessions are also held during special occasions, such as Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, and Children’s Day.
Other than helping the inmate, Singapore Prison Service also helps their families. The grassroots-led Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP) was established to help the families and children of inmates cope, by connecting them to the national social support networks. YRCP has assisted more than 5,000 families. We recognise that family ties are vital to the inmates’ rehabilitation and family support is especially important after the inmates’ release, and thus, the community’s long-term involvement is vital to ensure continuity in these efforts.”
We are currently indeed emphasising the important role of family support in rehabilitation. But the statistics show that there is still a problem and room for improvement.
Is there family support?
From 2014 to 2016, only about a third of DRC inmates received two family visits per month. I understand that request for additional family visits by DRC inmates or their family members are rare.
The lack of visits by family members is a tell-tale sign that there are problems. If the family bond is strong, then surely there will be family visits.
The drug consumption might be the symptom of a problem and so while we focus our efforts on tackling the sympton of the problem, we also need to remember to tackle the root of the problem. The lack of strong family bonds might the reason they consumed drugs in the first place.
The other even more worrying statistics is that the more times we incarcerate someone for drug offences, the higher the chances he or she will be incarcerated again.
In 2012, the recidivism rate for DRC inmates was 28.3% and for LT2 inmates, it was 42%. In 2014, the recidivism rate for DRC inmates was 30.1% and for LT2 inmates, it was 36.5%.
It should be the other way around where the recidivism rate should be higher for someone incarerated once as compared to someone incarerated for the fourth time.
I understand that one of the reasons for the higher recidivism rate for LT2 inmates is that they find it harder to reintegrate back into society. I’m certain that one of the other factors is again the lack of family support.
Rehabilitation for the family and not just the inmate
I completely understand how difficult it is for family bonds to be strengthened during the rehabilitation process, considering that these bonds would have been further damaged as a result of the incarceration.
I completely understand how lost someone must feel when their loved ones are incarcerated. I have met many residents who come to my MPS, appealing for help after their loved ones were incarcerated.
I recently met a mother of 5 children who had to now single-handedly support the whole family while her husband is in the DRC. She was thrown into the deep end and this will not be an easy chapter in her life.
And I completely understand the immense guilt a drug offender must feel when he or she leaves their family behind to fend for themselves.
We need to do more to strengthen our rehabilitation proess and we need to view the rehabilitation process more holistically and focus on how we can rebuilt the broken family bonds and focus on a more family-oriented rehabilitation process.
Family-oriented rehabilitation process
As mentioned earlier, Singapore Prison Service is already providing workshops to help inmates better understand the impact of their crimes on their families and build their parenting and communication skills.
However, can we do more workshops where it is attended by both the inmate and their spouse or loved one.
I appreciate the possible sercurity and logistic concerns but I believe the pros outweigh the cons.
Can we also look into developing more counselling programmes for families of inmates even before their release from prison, to help their families be better prepared to receive them upon their release, and to support them in leading drug-free lifestyles?
With regard to the family sessions in prison conducted with the Salvation Army? Can I check how often these sessions are conducted and the duration of each session.
Can we increase the number and duration of such family sessions? As I have suggested during the COS debates, can we consider introducing a programme where children get to spend a whole day with their parent who is behind bars? This is perhaps the most powerful rehabilitation tool.
In my earlier speech, I said “I watched fathers in tears as they realised how much they missed their children and perhaps how their actions have hurt their children. I saw in the eyes of the father a resolve to be rehabilitated so that they can reunite with the children – not just for a day but for the rest of their lives. And I also saw what that one day meant for the children, as ultimately the children are indeed the real victims.”
Can we also be more proactive in reaching out to families and children of inmates. I understand from the mother of 5 children that I mentioned earlier that nobody reached out to her.
Do we have the resources to ensure that we reach out to them during the first week of incarceration of their loved ones. That is the crucial period and the help we can provide will be essential.
Developing a national action plan for a family-centric rehabilitation approach
We already recognise the need for family support. There are in fact individual anti-addiction programmes for ex-offenders at halfway houses such as HighPoint, Pertapis, Green Haven, just to name a few, and at hospitals, such as the Raffles Counselling Centre and the National Addictions Management Service.
These programmes do bring in family support at some stage of the rehabilitation process.
However, the extent to which the family is brought into the rehabilitation process depends on the individual programmes. It also requires the ex-offender taking the initiative to first enrol in these programmes. Will MHA consider spearheading a unified national approach towards a family-centric rehabilitation process?
I believe we should draw inspiration from the Taskforce on Youth and Drugs in 2014 convened by Minister Masagos. The Taskforce had recommended developing more targeted strategies to address youth drug abuse, such as toolkits for parents, educators, counsellors and NS commanders, and introducing rehabilitation programmes for youths.
This led to CNB developing a guide for parents of children recovering from drug abuse titled “Staying Drug-Free”. A similar targeted national action plan should be taken towards rehabilitating all ex-drug-offenders.
Madam, our prison officers, our Captains of Lives do amazing work and I’ve seen this first-hand when I visited our DRC last year.
I must end this speech by saying that I completely understand how dissappointing it must be for them when they see a drug offender return to prison again and be under their care repeatedly.
It must not be easy for them and I sincerely hope we can help break this cycle, strengthen our rehabilitation process and strenghten family bonds.
Madam, I support the Motion.