Wind beneath their wings

AFTER completing his A levels, Mr Tan Weiren wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. Recalls Mr Tan, now 27: “Unlike those who had ‘dream jobs’ or career aspirations from young, I struggled to decide on a course of study, and even considered delaying a career decision till after completing my studies. For me, applying for a scholarship meant committing to a career, not just deciding on a course of study.” He had considered a teaching scholarship as both his parents were teachers. But he eventually applied for the Singapore Government Scholarship (Prisons). He says: “Thinking about my career after graduation, I saw some similarities: both involve considerable interactions with the goal of helping others to grow and learn to be better citizens in society. As I started to learn more about the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), the nature of the job drew me to it. “The job involves a lot of human interaction, coupled with a powerful vision to restore lives through inspiring change in others in a more tangible way. These resonated with my personal values.” Before he was awarded the scholarship, candidates like Mr Tan who were found suitable for a career with SPS were also given a half-day preview at one of the prisons to give them an insight into what to expect on the job.

Far-reaching impact

The preview convinced Mr Tan that it was the career for him. He accepted the scholarship and went on to read economics and geography at the University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom from 2011 to 2014. His scholarship covered the full tuition fees, return airfare, living expenses inclusive of accommodation, travel, daily expenditure as well as opportunities for internships. Upon graduating and completing training in 2015, Mr Tan joined the Reformative Training Centre as a Housing Unit Officer. The centre houses younger offenders who have been sentenced to reformative training. “As a Housing Unit Officer, I led a team of officers in round-the-clock operations of the housing unit, to ensure a safe and secure environment for all inmates. Together with a team of correctional rehabilitation specialists and volunteers, we rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for their release,” says Mr Tan. In August 2016, he took up the Staff Officer (Programme Management) role in the Rehabilitation & Reintegration Division, assisting in the planning and provision of in-care and aftercare programmes, including regime-based interventions such as reformative training for young offenders, and schemes that facilitate the reintegration of offenders into the community such as the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme. Introduced in 2014, the scheme provides for selected groups of ex-offenders who require greater reintegration support to undergo a structured aftercare regime for up to two years, through tighter supervision, progressive step-down arrangements and enhanced community support.

For example, these ex-offenders may be placed in a halfway house upon release for a period of time, then be placed on home supervision, followed a by community reintegration phase. They are subject to restrictions such as curfew hours and electronic monitoring, and have to undergo counselling and case management to assist in their reintegration journey. Mr Tan, who works closely with relevant units within SPS and community partners such as halfway houses and external vendors in his role, says: “Unlike my first posting at the prison institution where there was a more direct impact, as well as interactions with offenders, my current role has a more indirect but far-reaching impact as it involves policy implementations and fine-tuning of process workflows.”

Ripple effect

Mr Tan says the work he does at SPS has a ripple effect. “A small change can have an enormous impact for the better. When we do our job well, we will in turn impact the offenders, their families, employers, society and beyond.” he adds. We believe that change is a process that starts within prisons and continues in the community, and prisons staff and community partners play a vital role in this change process. However, even as we provide ex-offenders with the structure and support for rehabilitation, the most effective and lasting change occurs when offenders themselves commit to live crime- and drug-free lives.” Mr Tan likens the relationship between offenders and SPS officers to flying a kite. “The ‘string’ represents the high standards of discipline that we enforce to ensure safe and secure custody. The ‘wind’ represents our purposeful engagement and rehabilitation efforts with offenders,” he says. “Both the string and the wind are equally important for the kite to fly. “Without the string, the kite would be blown out of control and eventually fall to the ground. Without the wind, the kite would be unable to lift off the ground. Just like the kite, every offender has the potential to soar and excel, and become someone of worth, repute and respect in society.”