Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network

The Problem

Every year, more than 9,000 ex-offenders complete their sentences and are released from the various prisons and drug rehabilitation centres (DRCs). It is disheartening that ex-offenders have to live with the stigma of having served time behind bars when they are released from prison, one that can often be more punishing than the prison sentence itself. Many ex-offenders, once released, find themselves literally stepping into a second prison. This time it would be a prison with invisible bars, of suspicion, of mistrust and of discrimination.

The best rehabilitation regime during incarceration is of no use if ex-offenders find themselves rejected at every turn when they are released into the larger community. Through the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP), we hope to promote a more accepting society, one that is willing to give ex-offenders a second chance at making good. It is important that we help unlock the second prison for our inmates, even as we let them out of the physical one.

Rehabilitative and aftercare programmes are the supporting mechanisms to facilitate the reintegration of an individual back to the community and his family. Nevertheless, these efforts alone will not be adequate in the long run. The community plays an important part in helping to create a stable social environment where amenable ex-offenders and their families can feel a sense of belonging and find the hope to start afresh.

Hence, there was a need for a concerted and coordinated approach towards creating awareness, generating acceptance and inspiring action within the community.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
A public perception survey was commissioned in 2007 to elicit the Singaporean public’s attitudes towards ex-offenders and their awareness of the YRP. Findings showed that 94% of the respondents were aware of the YRP, indicating that our outreach and media efforts have by and large been successful in creating awareness of the YRP cause. The findings also showed that more than 60% of respondents had generally positive attitudes towards ex-offenders, with most agreeing that ex-offenders deserve a second chance and hence were willing to accept them back into society.

The Registration of Criminals (Amendment) Act was amended in May 2005 to help deserving ex-offenders reintegrate into society. The amended Act would allow an ex-offender convicted of a less serious crime to have his record considered spent if he met the specified criteria and stayed clean for a five-year period. Following this, the Singapore Civil Service amended their job application form on 1 April 2006. Candidates with spent records could now indicate that they did not have any criminal records, thus increasing their opportunities in their job search. In 2006, the Ministry of Transport, Land Transport Authority reviewed the guidelines for issuance and renewal of vocational licences for drivers of public service vehicles to make it more flexible for ex-offenders to get the license.

YRP received an international affirmation from the United Nations Department of Public Information in 2007 when, arising from SPS’s work in YRP, SPS was given an Honourable Mention for outstanding achievement in public relations campaigns which best exemplify the ideals and goals of the United Nations. Locally, YRP received the National Community Safety and Security Programme Award in 2007 and 2008 for two of our community engagement programmes. The award recognises outstanding projects and community volunteers on a nation-wide level that contributes to tackling community issues and problems addressing the safety and security of the community. It also received the Public Relations in the Service of Mankind (PRISM) Excellence Award under the Public Service Campaigns category in 2008. In 2009, the Yellow Ribbon Tattoo Removal Programme received the Ministry of Home Affair’s Operational Excellence Award.

The key achievements of YRP from 2004 to 2009 were as follows:
a) 1.985 million Yellow Ribbons distributed.
b) 313,000 Singaporeans participated in our events.
c) 807 new employers registered with Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) Job Bank.
d) 908 volunteers signed up to volunteer with us.
e) S$7.8 million raised for Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF).
f) More than 400 inmates and ex-offenders mobilised for each campaign.

The YRF is the first national charitable fund devoted entirely towards the development and implementation of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes and services for ex-offenders and their families. Registered under the National Council of Social Service, YRF was granted Institute of Public Character (IPC) status from 1 August 2004.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
For many ex-offenders, the move from a controlled prison environment to the outside society as a free man is a big struggle. Many would fail if left alone to do so. It is with this in mind that the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (CARE) Network was formed in May 2000. Members of the CARE Network include the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), the Singapore Aftercare Association (SACA), Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), the National Council for Social Services (NCSS), the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE) and the Industrial & Services Co-operative Society (ISCOS).

The CARE Network was formed to improve the effectiveness of the rehabilitation of ex-offenders in Singapore. Spearheaded by the SPS and the SCORE, the CARE Network is the first formal structure in Singapore that brings together key Government and non-government agencies involved in re-entry management.

The most significant achievement to date for the CARE Network is the development of the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP). The key drivers of the national campaign are the SPS and SCORE, supported by the CARE Network agencies. It was officially launched in 2004 by the then President of the Republic of Singapore, Mr S R Nathan. The YRP is an annual campaign aimed at changing society’s mindset towards giving ex-offenders a second chance in life. The campaign aims to mobilize community support and prepare the community for the offender’s reintegration. Our end result is to see ex-offenders reintegrated into society as responsible citizens.

The inspiration behind YRP was taken from the 70s hit song, “Tie a yellow ribbon round the Ole Oak Tree”.

“I’m really still in prison and my love, She holds the key, a simple yellow ribbon’s what I need to set me free…”

YRP’s moniker is adapted from the 1973 hit song by the pop group Tony Orlando and Dawn “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”, which describes a released prisoner’s desire for forgiveness and acceptance. The 3 lines above from the 70s hit aptly describe the ex-offender’s desire for the acceptance and forgiveness from his loved ones and the community to set him free.

There is a great need for the community to be more aware of the struggles and the plight of approximately 10,000 ex-offenders that walk out of our prisons gate, wanting to start their lives afresh. Failing to get support and losing this motivation were impetus for falling back to their old criminal ways. Such a trend would then sustain the recurring vicious cycle of crime which would harm not just the ex-offender but their families and the community at large (e.g. victims of crime).

The community therefore plays an important part in the creation of an inclusive social environment where ex-offenders, who displayed a strong desire to change, could find the hope to start life afresh and become contributing members of society.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The objectives of YRP are categorised into the 3 ‘A’s, which are:
a. To create ‘Awareness’ of giving second chances to ex-offenders.
b. To generate ‘Acceptance’ of ex-offenders and their families into the community.
c. To inspire ‘Community Action’ to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders.

In order to achieve the 3 key goals of the YRP, a minimum of one to two weeks are set aside in September or October each year for high profile events organised by the CARE Network in partnership with other government and religious bodies, grassroots organisations, voluntary welfare oganisations and the business sector. The aim is to create ‘ripple effects’ in community that would in turn perpetuate the 3 goals of “Action”, “Acceptance” and “Awareness”. As the “unreached” groups become conscious of the needs of ex-offenders through the efforts of a core group under the YRP, they would begin to empathise with them and change their attitudes towards them. These groups would become more forgiving of their past and more willing to encourage ex-offenders in their struggle to stay crime-free. Their belief in the cause would eventually inspire them to demonstrate their support through financial contributions, volunteerism or organising events to spread the message to the unconverted. Through this reinforcing virtuous cycle, the movement would catalyse a self-propagating chain reaction that would spread the YRP message throughout the community.

YRP Organisational Structure
To facilitate the organisation of the yearly YRP events and initiatives as well as the coordination of resources and publicity needed for the events, an organisational structure was put in place from the onset of the campaign. The YRP organisational structure comprises the main committee, led by a Chairman, which oversees the various event sub-committees and support sub-committees. In addition to the Chairman, the main committee includes the YRP secretariat team as well as Chairmen from various sub-committees. Each event is organised by a sub-committee that is made up of the sub-committee Chairman and his team – typically involving programme, logistics, publicity, reception and secretariat functions. Support sub-committees are also formed to take charge of resource management roles, such as publicity, logistics and finance, on a main committee level.

Measuring Success
The success of YRP events each year is measured by a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that serve as yardsticks for performance. These KPIs can be categorised into 3 main strategic focus of Attracting Attendance and Mass Participation, Heightening Awareness and Fund Raising.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The YRP main committee adopts a systematic approach in event planning and organisation. The entire project life-cycle is divided into 3 phases – planning, implementation and evaluation. The planning phase for each YRP season commences in November of the preceding year. At this stage, the main committee brainstorms on the possible events and sets the direction and theme for the coming YRP campaign. Upon approval by stakeholders from the CARE Network, event and support sub-committees are formed to undertake each of the events and support functions. Following this, the individual sub-committees would proceed with detailed planning of the various events. Individual sub-committees would be required to report on their progress on a monthly basis at the main organising committee meeting chaired by the Chairman, who is currently the CEO of SCORE. SCORE is the secretariat of the CARE Network.

Implementation phase typically begins in June with fringe events like YRP Song-writing competition. The bulk of the events, however, would be staged within a span of 2 weeks, typically in the month of September. During these 2 weeks of intense campaigning, the YRP main committee would work together with community partners in a coordinated effort to build up the YRP spirit to its zenith and make a significant impact in the community.

After the events are over, the evaluation phase sets in with the After Action Reviews (AARs) and gathering of feedback from the respective stakeholders. These responses, together with the data for the KPIs, are collated and documented by the secretariat team. Some of these results would be presented at the YRP Appreciation Dinner, which is a platform to thank all committee members, volunteers and partners who had contributed to the success of the YRP.

The feedback, suggestions and lessons learnt from the events are then taken into consideration in the planning for the next YRP season, which would commence immediately after the YRP Appreciation Dinner. This cyclical loop of continuous improvement enables the team to learn from their experience and avoid repeating mistakes. The feedback sessions are also a useful platform where innovative ideas and suggestions are collated for the planning of the next year.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Ex-offenders need the support of their families and the community for them to reintegrate into society successfully. Rehabilitation programmes would help to reform and prepare the ex-offender for release. However, what is equally critical is to prepare the community to accept the reintegration of these ex-offenders.

Recognising that a prejudiced mindset and stigmatisation of criminals are impediments to the reintegration of ex-offenders, a concerted effort is required to effect a mindset change. Only with the close partnership and commitment between the Government, community partners, companies and individual members of the public will we succeed in giving ex-offenders a second chance. The Singapore community as an inclusive society would offer support to reformed ex-offenders to become contributing members of society. Ultimately, we would achieve a safer and more secure home for all. The YRP bears testament of the power of garnering a group of like-minded organisations in the form of CARE Network to bring about community transformation towards ex-offenders and committing in a common purpose to help our ex-offenders reintegrate back into society.

Also in the first year, as a newcomer trying to organize an unprecedented campaign, there were no barometers, no references and no guiding principles for the team to follow. We were in fact not familiar with the mechanics of running a public campaign and our inexperience actually resulted in several blunders. For instance, the Charity Concert in the first year was almost cancelled after the team found out that the event might not meet certain fund-raising guidelines. At such critical junctures when emotions were running high and hopes were faltering, it took courageous leadership to weather the crisis and persevere in seeking a solution.

If there is one challenge that the team had to often grapple with, that would be the management of complexities. As the scope of activities and events got bigger in our effort to reach out to the community, so were the complexities and complications that came along with it. Staff were often thrust into new and unpredictable domains where they had to grapple with unknowns and uncertainties. Along these came the need to weigh the risk and consider possible consequences/fallouts from our actions and events. And, in such situations, it often takes courage to stand for a belief one holds, listen to the hearts and even put aside self interest to do the right things.

One such complex instance we encountered was the use of publicity to highlight the reintegration issues faced by inmates and convince the public that they were capable of change. Initially, we were hesitant to do it in a big way for fear of possible misperception that we may condone crime or undo law enforcement efforts. But eventually we plucked up the courage and went ahead to do it but in a manner that did not compromise any law and order stance/message.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Yellow Ribbon Fund
Recognising that additional resources are required to achieve the vision of CARE Network, the Yellow Ribbon Fund (YRF) was set up by SCORE in June 2004 to complement the YRP’s efforts in raising community support for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders. The YRF is the first national charitable fund devoted entirely towards the development and implementation of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes and services for ex-offenders and their families. Registered under NCSS, YRF was granted Institute of Public Character (IPC) status since 1 August 2004. To ensure good governance of the Fund, two sub-committees were formed to advise the YRF Committee on Disbursement and Fund-raising activities.

Passionate Core Team
Led by SPS and SCORE, the core team planned, conceptualised and executed the YR projects to ensure consistency in messaging. In addition, as key stakeholders of ex-offenders reintegration issues, the core team drove each YR project to a higher level as inherent ground knowledge and experiences were translated into workable community engagement campaigns.

Staff Buy-in
While some SPS staff are roped into event committees to organise YRP events, there are also those who contribute in small ways behind the scene throughout the entire event life-cycle. These include the inmates’ sharing of testimonies, supervision of inmates, transportation of inmate performers, security arrangement and handling of public enquiries. Despite the operational inconveniences that arose from running the YRP, staff took it in their stride because they believe in the message.

Publicity & Media Engagement
Effective brand positioning has also been instrumental to the success of the YRP campaign. The iconic yellow ribbon, together with its associated meaning, is easily identifiable and recognisable by Singaporeans from all walks of life. The success of the brand also lies with the consistency and discipline of the Yellow Ribbon message year after year.

YRP also leverages extensively on the media as a strategic tool for our campaign messaging. The public campaign is launched through a series of televised and printed advertisements, news and radio broadcasts, online mediums such as the Internet and websites. New social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, mobile phone messages and local internet forums, were also tapped to effectively publicise our events. In addition, YRP also enjoys wide media coverage from the Singapore media. It provides the media with a fertile spread of interesting story angles, such as highlighting anecdotal stories with a human touch, the arduous journey of rehabilitation undertaken by ex-offenders, as well as the impact it has on their loved ones.

Active Involvement of Inmates & Ex-offenders
Inmates and ex-offenders form an integral part of our campaign initiatives. Opportunities are given as much as possible to involve inmates and ex-offenders in our outreach activities. Our fundamental belief is that inmates and ex-offenders should not be just receiving but they should also be giving back as much as they can to others. Since the commencement of YRP, inmates have handmade up to 2,000,000 pieces of Yellow Ribbons for distribution and have also participated in community service projects. Ex-offenders have also pitched in by providing transportation and logistics assistance during events, distributing Yellow Ribbons and even putting up performances to showcase their talents and reformed ways.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
To enhance coordination of rehabilitation efforts, an Inter-Ministry Committee was set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in April 2009 to study and propose recommendations to address the problem of re-offending in Singapore. A two-pronged approach of moving further upstream to prevent inter-generational offending and downstream by preventing offenders’ re-offending were the key thrusts of this Committee.

One of the recommendations made include the need to strengthen community-based networks that would serve to provide the protective factors for inmates, as well as to strengthen SPS’ volunteer engagement system by building both capacity and capability in the community.

Another key focus is to leverage on the grassroots and community in taking ownership for offenders’ rehabilitation. This can be seen from the increasingly active participation and initiatives mooted by community groups to reach out to inmates and their families residing within their jurisdictions.

While currently still a work-in-progress, it can be expected that when the recommendations made by the CPR are fully implemented, it will further strengthen the rehabilitation and aftercare efforts in Singapore.

The success of our YRP caught the attention of many of our overseas correctional counterparts. They are very keen to implement a similar initiative back in their own countries. In 2008, we actually exported the Yellow Ribbon concept to Fiji. More recently, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (http://jjie.org/) reported that the United States has launched a new initiative, Apollo 13 Project (http://a13.org/), to reduce the number of former inmates returning to jail. Apollo 13 aimed to connect stakeholders, the public, employers and others to create a dialogue that will change the public perception of ex-offenders, softening the impact of their re-entry. The Executive Director of Apollo 13 said that he was inspired by Singapore’s Yellow Ribbon Campaign, which also helped former inmates adjust to life outside of prison. He stated that the Campaign was unique in that it promotes a society more accepting of ex-offenders. He also mentioned that the program promoted acceptance of former inmates by their families and society through charity events such as a competitive 10-kilometer Yellow Riboon Run.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
YRP has drawn some pertinent lessons from its engagement strategy with community partners, and these are:

a. Central Body for Coordination: A central coordinating body for community involvement in the aftercare sector is most effective. In YRP’ case, it has the CARE Network initiative to leverage on, where it can then take the lead to forge strategic community partnerships for the delivery of both in-care and aftercare programmes and services.

b. Preparing the Community to Receive Ex-offenders: As governmental agencies seek to collaborate under the umbrella of CARE Network, the community at large can be brought on board through national campaigns such as the YRP, where strong community messages are reinforced and events targeting at the various strata of the society are conducted;

c. Selecting a Core Team for Effective Planning & Implementation: In the preliminary planning phase, it is essential to have a committed team of core personnel who will work with the identified stakeholders on the ‘Branding’, ‘Engagement’ and ‘Execution’ of community projects. In Singapore’s context, the CARE Network Secretariat holds this responsibility; and

d. Maximising the Strengths of Volunteers: The strength and capabilities of community volunteers cannot be underestimated. Besides tapping into this valuable community resource, there is a conscious need to build on the capabilities of volunteers from the VWOs and religious organisations for a more effective outreach of rehabilitation programs within prison.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Leonie Tan
Title:   Deputy Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   65133598/65460871
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://www.yellowribbon.org.sg/
E-mail:   leonie_tan@score.gov.sg  
Address:   407 Upper Changi Road North 20km, Blk A.
Postal Code:   507658
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:   Singapore

          Go Back

Print friendly Page