Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP)
Singapore Prison Service

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Having good family support during an offender’s incarceration is essential to his rehabilitation journey. However, when an offender is incarcerated, he is often pre-occupied with the impact of his incarceration on his family and how they can cope with his absence. The impact of incarceration on families and children of inmates, the unintended victims of crime, is often significant and negative. Inmates’ families are often in disarray when their family member is imprisoned. Every year, about 10,000 offenders are admitted into Singapore’s prisons. Based on an average familial nucleus of 4 members, the incarceration impacts more than 40,000 people each year. 1. Studies have shown that children are adversely affected by parental incarceration, and are more likely to follow in the footsteps of their incarcerated parents. Children of offenders with a lack of parental care may become insecure, struggle with their self-identity and end up mixing with the wrong company. This puts them at risk of offending. These findings of intergenerational offending emphasise the need for early and timely intervention for such children at risk. 2. For the offender, the transition back to society remains a struggle. Ex-offenders often live with the stigma of having served time. This can sometimes be more difficult than the prison sentence itself. Many ex-offenders, once released, find themselves stepping into a second prison of suspicion from society at large because of their past misdeeds. Maintaining the motivation to lead a crime-free life requires strong community support as well as encouragement from their families. Families play important roles in the successful rehabilitation and reintegration process of offenders and ex-offenders. Families provide ex-offenders with motivation and social support before and after their release, helping them continue onwards with their lives. Thus, enhancing the support given to families of offenders during incarceration helps the offenders focus on their rehabilitation which in turn reduce re-offending and help prevent intergenerational patterns of incarceration. 3. The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) recognised the need to enhance the support for the families of inmates, particularly at the start of the offender’s incarceration where the family is most vulnerable. However, SPS could not do this alone. It had to be an integrated and multi-faceted approach for it to be sustainable. It takes a village to provide the necessary scaffolding for an ex-offender who is willing to change to become a “never-again offender”. With this in mind, it was essential for SPS to garner the support of the grassroots community to collaborate and synergise on ways assist these families. Grassroots community comprise of volunteers from the local community and form a strong support network for residents in the respective districts. They are currently organized into 89 divisions, and a grassroots advisor has been assigned to each division.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
4. The Yellow Ribbon Community Project (YRCP) train grassroots volunteers to visit and reach out to inmates’ families to provide support and assistance. Inmates, including remanded prisoners give consent upon admission into custody or any time after admitted. 5. With the support, inmates will be able to focus on their rehabilitation in prison, having in mind that their families are being supported by the community. 6. Since inception in September 2010, the project has touched 5,000 families through the 900 volunteers.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
7. YRCP was introduced to provide community support and assistance to inmates’ families through the grassroots volunteers. This initiative provides support to offenders’ families, helping them stabilise as they cope with uncertainties arising from the incarceration of the offenders. Very often, these families are from the low income spectrum in the society and face financial difficulties, unemployment and childcare issues. Most of these families are lower educated and may not know how to get help. 8. Under the YRCP, all inmates would be given information on the project and timely visits to the families would be made by the grassroots volunteers upon sign up. At the visits, the volunteers are able to assess the family situation and provide a listening ear and emotional support to the families who are often thrown in a state of crisis at the early stages of the inmate’s incarceration. If more help is required, the family is linked to existing community support structures such as the Residents’ Committees, Family Service Centres and Community Development Councils. 9. Building on the encouraging progress over the past few years, SPS has also enhanced the YRCP in 2016 to intensify community collaboration and reduce inter-generational offending. The enhanced version has enabled the YRCP volunteers to make a greater impact in the following areas: a. Rekindle familial bonds: Some inmates have not been visited by their families for a long time. At the inmate's request, the SPS will arrange for the YRCP volunteers to encourage the families to visit their loved ones in prison. This first step towards family reconciliation will go a long way to support the inmate’s rehabilitation process. b. Provide positive pro-social support: Beyond linking the inmates’ families to community resources, the YRCP volunteers also link them to various community programmes organised by the grassroots. This will widen the social support network available to these families. In addition, the volunteers can serve as befrienders to the ex-inmates when they are released from prison. The enhanced social support will help reduce the social stigma associated with past imprisonment and better reintegrate the ex-inmate into society. c. Identify and support vulnerable children and families: Volunteers with the YRCP are now helping to identify children of inmates who may require support in their studies or counselling, and connect them with suitable community programmes via the Community Action for Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network Children Support Programme. This programme seeks to nurture the development of cognitive and socio-emotional skills among children (3-12 years old). The programme includes mentorship, enrichment, tuition, education support, parenting skills and support groups.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
10. Very often, the role of prisoners rehabilitation is only associated solely with the correctional service but in Singapore, it has become a nation-wide approach to reduce recidivism. Through the YRCP, Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs), governmental agencies and the grassroots community as well as families of the inmates. 11. Due to the active involvement of the grassroots in the YRCP, many politicians, community and grassroots leaders and corporate partners had made time and effort to support the YRCP, and spread the message of community acceptance for offenders’ rehabilitation. 12. In YRCP, the strength and capabilities of community volunteers are maximised. By tapping into this valuable community resource, the sustainability of the YRCP is achieved. The grassroots organisations play an important role in supporting the families that live within their communities, and continue to remain available even after the offender is released from custody. Many grassroots divisions have since taken ownership of the project, customising it to suit the needs of residents in their community. It evolved into a collective “Community Project” in Singapore, carried out by the respective grassroots communities for the welfare and benefit of their residents

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
13. The SPS is an agency within the Ministry of Home Affairs. Together with the Police, Immigrations, Civil Defence and Central Narcotics Departments, we make up what is also known as the Home Team, a collection of governmental agencies dedicated to safeguarding the safety and internal security of Singapore. Today, the SPS administers a total of 13 institutions, and provides safe and secure custody for about 12,000 inmates. 14. To enhance coordination of rehabilitation efforts, an Inter-Ministry Committee was set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs in April 2009 to study and propose recommendations to address the problem of reoffending in Singapore. One of the recommendations made included the need to strengthen community-based networks that would serve to provide protective factors for inmates with the key focus to leverage on the grassroots and community in taking ownership of offenders’ rehabilitation. 15. Hence SPS started the YRCP in September 2010. Since its implementation, the YRCP has grown from a mere eight participating divisions to a total of 67 today. From fewer than 60 grassroots volunteers in 2010, the number of volunteers has grown steadily to close to 900 today and has effectively reached out to more than 5,000 families of offenders.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
16. As the success of YRCP and the quality of the support provided to offenders’ families under the initiative is contingent on the participation of the grassroots community, it is crucial to actively engage the grassroots volunteers. A series of engagement activities have been conducted for this community stakeholder to garner support for the initiative and to better align the grassroots volunteers to the objectives of YRCP. 17. An awards and appreciation ceremony is held annually for all grassroots volunteers to show appreciation towards the outreach work that the volunteers have done thus far. The ceremony also aims to encourage greater participation from the respective grassroots divisions through the recruitment of new volunteers for YRCP and to bring interested grassroots divisions on board. 18. Besides the ceremony, quarterly engagement session for volunteers comprises a visit to a prison institution to allow grassroots volunteers to understand how prison life is like for the offenders, and hence to aid them to better engage offenders’ families during their home visits and outreach efforts. The session also featured personal sharing from offenders who have benefited from the initiatives, and from sharing from experienced grassroots volunteers. In addition, the prison visit session allows the grassroots volunteers to network and learn from each other, through the sharing of success stories. 19. Apart from organising the prison visits, regular dialogue sessions with the grassroots advisors were also conducted to create awareness and garner support for YRCP, and to encourage participation from the grassroots divisions who have yet to be on board the initiative, in a bid to expand the reach of YRCP and to benefit more offenders’ families. The dialogue session with the grassroots advisors mainly focuses on gathering feedback on the initiative and looking into new innovative ways to support offenders’ families who often fall through the cracks of current social support networks. 20. Furthermore, it is also important to ensure that volunteers are equipped with a basic level of competency in required skill sets before they commence their outreach efforts to offenders’ families. SPS therefore provides training to all grassroots volunteers to equip them with the basic skills required to work with offenders’ families and to conduct a basic assessment of the family’s needs during the initial home visits. 21. In November 2013, a research partnership was commissioned by SPS and the Singapore Institute Management University for evaluation of the programme. From the findings, a clear message echoed was a deep interest by the grassroots volunteers to want to do more for the families and to ensure that the help needed is given. Hence in May 2016, SPS enhanced the YRCP to provide further proactive support and assistance to the families of offenders.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
22. With the support from Ministry of Home Affairs, SPS maintains oversight and overall coordination of the initiative, and works closely with the grassroots volunteers to roll out the initiative in the local communities. The other key community partners involved in YRCP are Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), the Grassroots Advisors, Yellow Ribbon Champions (YRCs) and the grassroots volunteers. The roles of the key community partners are elaborated further in this section. 23. SPS will notify the grassroots community who would get in touch with offender’s kin using contact information provided by the offender. The process ends with SPS updating the offender regarding the outcome upon receiving the information from the grassroots. 24. The main role of SANA in YRCP is to act as the overall coordinator for the grassroots community involved in the initiative. A dedicated project manager from SANA has been appointed to assist SPS to oversee the day-to-day running of YRCP, monitor the progress in each division, and to act as the link between SPS and volunteers from the respective grassroots divisions. 25. Grassroots volunteers from the local community form a strong support network for residents in the respective districts. They are currently organised into 89 divisions, and a grassroots advisor has been assigned to each divisions. Under the leadership of the advisor, the grassroots volunteers would the share information on the available community resources/services and link the family up with the relevant agencies as needed. 26. In every division, the key grassroots volunteer spearheading YRCP is designated as the ‘Yellow Ribbon Champion’ as a form of recognition for the work that they do in helping families of offenders. The Yellow Ribbon Champions supports the advisors by organising the volunteers and providing regular updates on the progress of YRCP in their division.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Low recidivism 27. The SPS uses a two-year recidivism rate to track the rate of repeat offenders in Singapore, and has been tracking it since 1998. Encouragingly, Singapore is witnessing a sustained improvement in the recidivism rate. The proportion of inmates from the 2014 cohort who re-offended within two years of their release stood at 26.5%, from what was 44% for the batch released in 1998. The low and stable recidivism rate in Singapore could be attributed to inmates securing family and community support as well as gainful and stable employment through the YRCP. Figures also showed a continued dip in the number of people admitted into prison. There were 10,211 convicted penal admissions in 2016, compared to 10,635 admissions in 2015 and 11,595 in 2014. Improved public perception 28. YRCP is perceived as important and successful in providing needed support and assistance. From the evaluation study findings conducted in 2013, families visited generally find that their access to resources has improved. This improvement takes the form of increased awareness of the availability of assistance schemes and in connecting with and benefiting from the help provided by the government and non-governmental organisations. 64 per cent of families interviewed have also experienced improved living conditions through participation in the YRCP. Awareness and acceptance 29. Through the YRCP, stories of the plights families faced, especially the impact of incarceration on children is now being made aware to the community, which the community can better appreciate the reality of incarceration and understand the reintegration issues faced by offenders. This has helped to significantly reduce the stigmatisation of ex-offenders. More inmates are securing jobs across various sectors even before their release, as more employers show greater interest and support in hiring ex-offenders. In 2016, out of the 2,061 inmates referred to the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises (SCORE), 96 per cent were able secure jobs while still serving their sentences. Rekindling of family ties 30. Based on the evaluation study conducted in 2013, the YRCP has a positive effect on reintegration for offenders. Through exercising of the consent to initiate the YRCP process by the offender, is an affirmation that he cares about the well-being of his dependents and loved ones. When informed of the decision by the incarcerated kin, positive emotions are evoked, often mixed with a tinge of sadness and regret. This effect encourages the strengthening of kinship ties, fostering a stronger willingness to forgive and reconcile with the offender.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
31. There are three major obstacles that were being encountered. One, there is no available blueprint to fall back upon as SPS sought to promote community-based volunteerism on a national wide scale. At the early onset during the preparation phase, the SPS project team had to conduct door-to-door meetings with various grassroots divisions in bid to link up all the community stakeholders from grassroots with the social agencies. Within SPS, there was also a need to ensure close collaboration between the various ground units and the project team so that all operational requirements to facilitate YRCP were duly considered and addressed. It was a delicate exercise for the team to ensure that all needs and expectations were moderated, and most importantly, a strong partnership between SPS and the grassroots be forged. 32. The second major challenge was in building up capability of the grassroots volunteers. Working with families of the incarcerated ones is challenging and complex. Some families remained unresponsive despite good intention to render assistance to them. For a start, SPS provides the volunteers with basic trainings that cover areas such as programme orientation and basic understanding of ex-offenders and their families. Frequent dialogues and sharing through various platforms helped equipped the volunteers with the best practices. Subsequently a strong core pool of volunteers was built and they also provided useful peer-to-peer learnings for the new volunteers. More recently, professional trainings on conducting effective home visits and case assessment were added to the trainings. 33. The third major challenge was in convincing the inmates to believe in this project. The earlier inmate cohorts had uncertainty in the project or were unsure if grassroots volunteers could help their families. A comprehensive communications package was developed and delivered by SPS officers to help the inmates to understand the benefits of YRCP.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
34. In November 2013, a study was conducted in collaboration with Singapore Institute of Management University to assess the extent to which the objectives of the YRCP have been realized. In-depth interviews with families of offenders under YRCP, and focus group discussions with the volunteers were conducted. 35. In the evaluation study, families visited generally find that their access to resources has improved. This improvement takes the form of increased awareness of the availability of assistance schemes and in connecting with and benefiting from the help provided by the government and non-governmental organisations. 64 per cent of families interviewed have also experienced improved living conditions through participation in the YRCP. 36. One kin described how it would be tougher for families of offenders to know and gain access to the various forms of social assistance had there been no YRCP: “… it did help me and was quite helpful. … when I needed any information on like housing and all was quite easy to get and useful.” “Also because volunteers helped us so we know what to do. If we did not have volunteers helping us we also don’t know what to do, it would be slower”. (Doris – wife of offender) 37. The evaluation study also reveal that the YRCP has a positive effect on reintegration for offenders. To many of the families visited, the exercising of the consent to initiate the YRCP process by the offender is affirmation that he cares about the well-being of his dependents and loved ones. When informed of the decision by the incarcerated kin, positive emotions are evoked, often mixed with a tinge of sadness and regret. This effect encourages the strengthening of kinship ties, fostering a stronger willingness to forgive and reconcile with the offender. One NOK recalled how he witnessed the change in his brother: “Before I received the letter (from SPS), I feel like he deserved it (to be put behind bars). It is a punishment for him.” “I feel surprised (because) he is usually not like that. I feel comforted and happy because he has changed). I feel certainly supported (through YRCP)” “(We are) more relaxed (knowing that there are) programmes in prison and things are not that bad” (Khalid – brother of offender). 38. From the regular dialogue and networking sessions held with the grassroots, there were encouraging signs of the positive impact of YRCP, especially in the area of the mobilising volunteers at a national level had served to bring together the wider community groups, resulting in better interaction and inclusiveness among the different ethnic and age groups. This is how one volunteer describe YRCP: “I feel it’s very good to reach the inmates families. One thing is, we can help the children, the parents who are [abandoned… This is a good programme, for our residents, inmates’ families.” (Fatimah – grassroots volunteer)

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
39. The YRCP has helped shaped a positive public perception of SPS and the criminal justice system. With YRCP advocating for more proactive assistance for the offender and his family, society has gained a positive perception of SPS in reducing re-offending. This is evident by how SPS was able to implement Community-Based Sentencing such as the Short Detention Order and the Day Reporting Order in 2011. Both schemes involve offenders of minor crimes serving the tail-end of their sentences at home tracked by electronic tagging devices.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
40. One of the target groups of the YRCP is helping the children of inmates. During house visits, volunteers identify vulnerable children including girls who may require help emotionally, academically or financially. The volunteers will connect the children to caseworkers from community agencies and programmes run by VWOs. The children will have access to mentors, bonding and enrichment activities involving parents and mentors, tuition classes, and bursaries. With the support from the community, it has not only benefit the children but also the offenders’ spouse knowing that there are available help from the community while their spouse is incarcerated. 41. Such early interventions are important, to minimise the disruption to the children’s lives arising from their parent’s incarceration. This initiative help them cope with their schoolwork, while providing valuable guidance, support and mentorship.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Singapore Prison Service
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Melvin Lee
Title:   Staff Officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   +65 65466987
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   melvin_lee@pris.gov.sg  
Address:   407 Upper Changi Road North, Singapore 507658
Postal Code:   507658
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:  

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