Are we truly ready to embrace ex-offenders in our society? Would we give them a second chance?
I pondered the above questions as I attended the recent SCORE Appreciation Awards held at Grassroots Club. An acronym for the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, SCORE was established as a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs back in April 1976 to assist offenders and ex-offenders through re-skilling and employment assistance. This is done through training, work, employment assistance and community engagement.
At the event, I found out that about 10,000 offenders are released each year from our prisons. Roughly 50% or 5,000 are trained and equipped by SCORE to acquire new workplace skills. About 2,000 of these former prisoners are matched with employers each year.
Happily, the number of companies offering to work with ex-offenders has increased. They have grown from 2,872 in 2011 to more than 3,100 this year. With tightening labour conditions, it may make sense for companies to hire more ex-inmates for their workforce.
At the award ceremony, 56 organisations were recognised for helping to re-integrate ex-offenders back to society. They include Resorts World at Sentosa (RWS), the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, Buildables Pte Ltd, and the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).
It was heartening to hear testimonies from ex-offenders who turned over a new leaf and did well in their new jobs. They include ex-drug offender Davien Ong, who is now doing well as a trainee chef at the super-premium Joel Robuchon restaurant at RWS.
While progress has been made to rehabilitate ex-offenders through initiatives such as the Yellow Ribbon Project (SAM has strongly supported their community arts programme since 2008), there is still much work to be done.
Speaking to one of the SCORE case officers, I discovered sadly that the majority of ex-offenders are unable to integrate themselves back into society. Shunned by employers, they are often driven by desperation back to a life of crime or drug abuse.
While this can be quite heart wrenching, I am encouraged to hear from the case officer shared that they will still persevere. Through the relentless efforts of organisations like SCORE and the Social innovation Park, society will hopefully grow to accept reformed ex-offenders.
Through legislation, the government can push to eradicate discriminatory recruitment practices. However, the power ultimately lies with organisations and individuals. We need to overcome our collective mindsets and prejudices about ex-offenders. We need to help these fellow citizens to scale the slippery slope and get back on firmer ground.
As the tagline of the Yellow Ribbon project says, we need to “unlock the second prison”.
Are there concrete steps that we can take to help this movement?