SINGAPORE — The number of new Malay/Muslim drug offenders arrested has more than halved over the past three years, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
The figure dropped from around 700 in 2019 to below 300 in 2022, he said on Tuesday (May 23) afternoon at the Malay/Muslim Organisation (MMO) Rehabilitation Network Forum 2023 held at the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) Headquarters in Changi.
Said Dr Faishal: "I am very encouraged by the progress we have made, especially in the area of preventing reoffending. This is something the Government could not have done on our own."
The MMO Rehabilitation Network, formed in November 2021, comprises more than 20 organisations including mosques, social service agencies, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), self-help group Mendaki and Pertapis Halfway House.
Its inaugural workplan, launched at the forum, will see it adopt new strategies to further prevent offending and reoffending within the Malay/Muslim community. The workplan was co-developed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, SPS, Central Narcotics Bureau and network members.
Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for Health Masagos Zulkifli, who was guest of honour at the forum, said an emphasis on families has been a key reason for the "phenomenal progress" in reducing reoffending among the Malay/Muslim community.
"Families anchor ex-offenders, and provide hope of a warm home to return to while they are still incarcerated," he said, noting the efforts by community partners such as Yellow Ribbon Singapore to support the families of offenders to help in their loved ones' reintegration process.
"By coming together as a network, member organisations are able to multiply their collective efforts, tapping each other's expertise, synergising efforts to better support ex-offenders and their families," said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.
The two-year recidivism rate for Malay offenders fell from 48.4 per cent among those released in 2001, to 24.7 per cent for those released in 2020, Mr Masagos noted.
However, the overall five-year recidivism rate has hovered at about 40 per cent, he said. "This means that within five years, two out of five ex-offenders return to prison. We need to do better."
While financial and social safety nets are available to support former offenders and their families, the daily struggle that surrounds such families can be complex and challenging, Mr Didicazli Cindy Ismail, chairman of [email protected] Besar, told reporters.
M3 is a collaborative effort by three key community institutions, Muis, Mendaki and Mesra.
Mr Didicazli said M3 volunteers have come across families who were not able to buy food, grandparents who have to work to support their incarcerated children's families, and children in need of continued education.
"When you're talking about people from incarcerated families, down to the topic of people staying in rental flats, it opens up different challenges... which require consistent, sustainable programmes of engagement."
New Life Stories, a non-profit organisation that aims to prevent intergenerational incarceration, hopes to reduce the odds against children of offenders.
Its executive director Saleemah Ismail said studies have shown that 20 per cent of children whose parents are in prison are more likely to end up behind bars.
"We feel that we need to go upstream," said Madam Saleemah, whose volunteers make weekly visits to children at their homes or caregivers' homes for as long as two years. "The child needs to also feel nurtured, loved and wanted. These are challenges we know we can overcome for the child."
In order to help the families of jailed offenders, an army of volunteers is needed for the "long haul", she said.
Added Mr Didicazli: "As an appeal, we need everyone with the heart to help those in need of support to come forward. We have to really work together in the years to come, so that whatever success we achieve now will not only be sustainable — it will be improved on further."
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