Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mandatory Aftercare Scheme to help offenders stay crime-free

By Wayne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 17 Apr 2012

A new Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS) to help offenders stay crime-free will come into effect in 2013.

Announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Teo Chee Hean, the MAS is targeted at local offenders assessed to be at high risk of re-offending.

The scheme stems from recommendations to develop a more structured aftercare regime to prevent re-offending by the inter-agency Committee on the Prevention of Re-Offending, chaired by Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli.

More than half of Singapore's current prison population have been jailed five times or more. Mr Teo said that it is this group of re-offenders that the new scheme will help the most.

He said: "Given that multiple repeat offenders now form the majority of the prison population, more focus needs to be provided in the period after their release when they are at their most vulnerable.

"This will help these ex-inmates break the cycle of re-offending and transit from imprisonment to reintegration within the community."

When MAS is implemented, inmates imprisoned for drug offences, property offences (and have drug antecedents) and serious crimes will be subjected to the scheme.

"The number of drug abusers arrested has been rising for the past six years, and inmates with a drug antecedent formed 79 percent of the local prison population last year," Mr Teo said.

"These inmates have a higher recidivism rate (compared to inmates with no drug antecedents)."

About 1,400 offenders are estimated to be eligible for the scheme each year.

The scheme will consist of supervision and restrictions, such as curfew hours and electronic monitoring, as well as counselling and case management.

Upon release at the two-third mark of their sentence, offenders who are assessed to be suitable for MAS will be placed progressively through step-down support and supervision.

Eligible offenders will have to go through different durations of aftercare depending on their rehabilitation needs.

The MAS consists of three phases - the halfway house phase, the home detention phase and the community re-integration phase.

In the halfway house phase, offenders will be required to undergo rehabilitation programmes, urine tests (for those with drug history) and take up employment or vocational training.

Offenders may be also subjected to electronic monitoring to track their movement outside the halfway house.

In the home detention phase, offenders will have to observe daily curfew hours and subject to electronic monitoring.

Offenders will also continue rehabilitation programmes, urine tests, and employment or vocational training.

In the final community re-integration phase, curfews will be removed but other conditions, such as scheduled reporting and urine testing, may continue.

Rehabilitation includes psychological-based counselling programmes, employability skills training and family programmes in prison.

Also under review is the remission system, which will look at how to implement a system with conditions similar to the parole systems in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Currently, most inmates are granted one-third remission of their prison sentences without any conditions imposed on them after release, subject to good conduct in prison.

They cannot be detained past the two-third mark as long they did not breach prison discipline, even if they are assessed to pose a threat to society.

Desmond Chin, Deputy Director of Prisons with the Singapore Prison Service, said pre-release centres will also be set up to prepare inmates for re-integration 10 months before they are released.

He said: "Towards the tail-end of a person's incarceration, about 10 months before that, he'll be brought into a pre-release centre. In the pre-release centre, there'll be an assessment that will be done on him, where we'll identify his risk and needs.

"Counselling programmes will be also administered. For those with family issues which we think will be a problem before his release, his family will be brought in and we will do some family work together with him."

The Home Affairs Ministry and Singapore Prisons Service will study the various remission systems overseas before deciding what is suitable for Singapore by next year.

A member of the Board of Directors of the International Corrections & Prisons Association, Daniel Lombardo, who was at the Prisons-SCORE Corporate Advance 2012 event where Mr Teo announced the new scheme and the remission system review, said he was impressed at the steps that Singapore was taking to further reduce the recidivism rate with the new Mandatory Aftercare Scheme.

Mr Lombardo said: "If you take a look at Singapore's re-offence rate right now, you're talking about a 26.7 per cent return rate to the prison system. If you compare that to the United States system, about two-thirds of our offenders return back to our system.

"So Singapore is building on the legacy it already has, there's nothing in the world like the Yellow Ribbon Project. It's absolutely amazing to me."

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