More admitted to drug rehab centre in 2019, driven by changes in law aimed at reducing relapse
SINGAPORE: The number of drug rehabilitation centre (DRC) admissions saw a sharp spike in 2019 following changes to the legislation, annual statistics released by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) showed on Friday (Feb 7).
A total of 2,080 inmates were admitted to the DRC in 2019, a 65 per cent jump from the 1,257 admitted the year before. There were 1,152 admissions in 2017. This is the first time SPS is sharing total figures for drug-related admissions.
The spike comes after the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in January last year to allow repeat drug abusers who have not committed other concurrent offences to be sent to DRC, in a move aimed at reducing relapse and improving reintegration.
Previously, the DRC was reserved for first- and second-time drug abusers. Those arrested for the third time and more were subjected to long-term imprisonment.
The DRC regime includes psychology-based correctional programmes, skills training as well as family support and religious services. Inmates will then serve the tail end of their detention in the community – either on day release from the DRC, at a halfway house, or at home with electronic tagging.
Those detained under the DRC regime undergo different durations of detention based on their assessed risks and needs, said SPS adding that it will continue to monitor the recidivism rate of the inmates.
The recidivism rate refers to the percentage of inmates detained, convicted and imprisoned again for a new offence within two years of their release.
Latest statistics showed that the DRC recidivism rate for the 2017 release cohort was 28.1 per cent, compared to 23.8 per cent in 2016 and 29.5 per cent in 2015. SPS said the rate has remained stable over the years, with factors like cohort size accounting for year-to-year fluctuations.
Nevertheless, the DRC recidivism rate is five percentage points higher than the penal recidivism rate of 23.1 per cent in 2017. A possible reason is that the addictive nature of drugs makes it easier to relapse, SPS said.
“Aftercare supervision during the community-based programme (CBP) phase provides abusers with supportive measures that facilitate their reintegration into society,” SPS said.
The CBP completion rate for DRC inmates stood at 87.6 per cent as of the end of last year, a slight increase from the 86.3 per cent in 2018. Some don’t complete the programme because they re-offend during this phase.
Third-time drug abuser and DRC inmate Rahman (not his real name), who has one year left on his detention, is looking forward to completing it and starting afresh.
The 32-year-old admitted he got a “wake-up” call when he was given compassionate leave from DRC last October to visit his ailing father in hospital. “Seeing him lie in bed was very hard for me to take,” he said. “My parents won’t be around forever, so they deserve a chance to see me change.”
Rahman said he has really bought into the intervention programmes during his third stint in the DRC, especially as they have taught him to be more open about his struggles and emotions. He would previously keep his feelings “bottled up”, eventually returning to drugs for "solace".
“The officers are more engaged,” he said of his current experience. “They will walk with you in rehab and are more than willing to listen to your problems and try their best to help us. If they can’t, they will find outside resources.”
DRC housing unit officer Mohamed Faizal Abdul Hamid, who ensures inmates attend rehab programmes to address their risks and needs, said the increase in population means officers now have a greater caseload, with a ratio of one officer to 30 inmates compared to 15 previously.
“There will be cases to look into, more engagement we need to do with the guys coming in,” the 38-year-old said, noting that the challenge is having sufficient resources.
“With more inmates, we need more programme space, so that’s one of the things we are grappling with.
“But we are also addressing all those issues, and then it’s time management, proper planning and of course working with relevant stakeholders to make sure that we manage to give these guys the programming they need.”
While additional officers have been deployed to the DRC, the department has also reviewed its work processes and used technology to make them more efficient, Superintendent of Prisons Loh Hong Wai, who is in charge of Institution B5 within the DRC, said. For instance, inmates can use tablets to take e-learning modules on rehabilitation.
“Even with the increased numbers, there is definitely no compromise on the effective delivery of rehabilitation programmes as well as the safe custody of drug abusers committed to our charge,” he said.
OTHER NOTABLE STATS
This safe custody is reflected in the annual data, with the SPS confirming there were no escapes for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019.
The assault rate for fiscal year 2019 was 35.7 incidents per 10,000 inmates, compared to 39.1 and 30.4 for fiscal years 2018 and 2017, respectively.
The year 2019 also saw four executions – two each for murder and drugs offences. There were 13 and eight executions in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
The overall recidivism rate for the 2017 release cohort was 24 per cent, compared to 23.7 per cent in 2016 and 25.9 per cent in 2015.
SPS said the overall recidivism rate has remained “low and stable” over the past three years, highlighting that the figure is considered low by international standards.
“To address offenders’ re-offending risks and rehabilitation needs, SPS adopts a throughcare approach, which means working closely with community partners and volunteers to provide comprehensive supervision and support for offenders,” it said.
Rahman is keen not to be part of this statistic.
“I feel that the Government is giving me a second chance by not sending me to penal imprisonment and letting me go back to DRC,” he said. “My parents also keep giving me a chance and still have hope for me to change. Why not I give myself a chance this time round?”