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Recidivism rate falls again in 2021, remains lowest since 1992

SINGAPORE — After joining a gang at age 14, John (not his real name) had been in and out of prison for years for various offences, ranging from drugs to violent crime. 

The recidivism rate among inmates in Singapore continued its downward trend in 2021.
The recidivism rate among inmates in Singapore continued its downward trend in 2021.
  • The two-year recidivism rate in Singapore prisons remains the lowest since 1992
  • One-fifth of inmates released in 2019 returned to prison, down from 22.1 per cent the year before
  • Assault rates have stabilised at about 46 cases for every 10,000 inmates since the 2019 financial year 
  • But the assault figures remain higher than those recorded in the 2012 to 2018 financial years

SINGAPORE — After joining a gang at age 14, John (not his real name) had been in and out of prison for years for various offences, ranging from drugs to violent crime. 

The turning point came when his 10-year-old son visited him in jail during his last stint in prison and asked him when he was going to be released. 

Speaking to the media on Tuesday (Feb 8), the 49-year-old former gang member, who was released in 2014, recounted his decision to turn his life around. 

He recalled that his son's words really affected him. 

"He said: 'Most of the children, they got a parent to send them to school, but I got no one.' That really touched me. I asked myself: 'What am I doing here? Is there no other life for me?'" said John, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. 

He later renounced his gang membership. Today, he works at the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society, which supports ex-offenders and their families, by helping other inmates and former gang members to make a fresh start. 

John is among some ex-offenders who have transited to life outside prison successfully after being released. 

Yearly statistics released by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) on Wednesday showed that the two-year recidivism rate fell again in 2021, with 20 per cent of inmates released in 2019 returning to prison, down from 22.1 per cent the year before.

This remains the lowest level since 1992, when the recidivism rate was 52.7 per cent for the cohort of inmates released in 1990.

The recidivism rate has been on a downward trend in recent years. In 2019, the rate was 24 per cent. 

Assistant Commissioner Rafidah Suparman, director of corporate communications and relations at SPS, said that the decline in the proportion of ex-convicts returning to prison within two years of release — the prisons' definition of recidivism — was a result of the "throughcare" approach towards rehabilitation that it adopts.

This refers to both in-prison programmes, where inmates pick up vocational and interpersonal skills, as well as support programmes that help them find jobs after they are released. 


Separately, the number of inmates undergoing rehabilitation in the community while being supervised by SPS also dipped slightly to 3,402 last year, from 3,426 in 2020.

Assault rates in the prisons have also stabilised, at around 46 cases for every 10,000 inmates, since the 2019 financial year. 

For the 2021 financial year, SPS projects assault rates to come in at 46.1.

Although the prison service said that the assault rate in Singapore's prisons is low compared with those in other countries, the figures in the last three financial years have been higher than in previous years. 

Over the seven years before the 2019 financial year, assault rates hovered between 24.4 and 39.1. 

SPS noted that the assault rate varies from year to year and hinges on many factors, including the profile of inmates. 

“In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of offenders admitted to prison for violent offences. Such offenders are more prone to committing violent offences during incarceration,” the agency added. 

Common triggers that spark assaults are conflicts between inmates, and their inability to manage their anger and emotions. 

Steps are being taken to manage this, including scheduling inmates with a history of violence for rehabilitation programmes that deal with their violent behaviour and that teach them to regulate their emotions better, SPS said. 

On the employment front, Yellow Ribbon Singapore — a government agency focused on rehabilitating inmates through job opportunities — said that 94 per cent of the 3,000 inmates that were given employment help managed to secure jobs in 2021 before they were released. 

These jobs were mainly in sectors such as administrative and support services, food services, as well as wholesale and retail trade services.

While last year's rate was higher than the 93 per cent who secured jobs in 2020, it was lower than the 96 per cent in 2018 and 2019. This was because some companies that were working with the prisons to offer work programmes for inmates stopped operations because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Nevertheless, Ms Karen Tan, director of careers at Yellow Ribbon Singapore, said that some employers had approached the agency to hire inmates during the pandemic because they were facing manpower shortages owing to border restrictions that prevent foreign workers from entering Singapore.

Yellow Ribbon Singapore said: "Generally, there has been an increase in the number of companies across all sectors that have approached Yellow Ribbon Singapore." 

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this report stated that the recidivism rate in 2021 was the lowest since 1990. The Singapore Prison Service has clarified that the 2021 recidivism rate was the lowest since the cohort of inmates released in 1990 — the recidivism rate for whom was recorded in 1992, two years after their release. 

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