SINGAPORE: The teacher sat beside five of her students, all of them facing a screen and studying a flow chart they had prepared on the stages of committing a crime.
“What are some of the actions you can take to reduce the excitement (that comes before committing a crime)?” the teacher asked, raising her voice amid the cacophony of camera clicks that filled the room.
The students glanced quickly at the surrounding media circus and remained silent. “Now distracted. Cannot think already,” one of them blurted out as the room erupted in laughter. The teacher could not resist a smile.
This is no ordinary civics lesson in school, but a class called High on Life conducted in Changi Prison Complex’s Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC). The teacher is one of DRC’s in-house counsellors, officially known as a Correctional Rehabilitation Specialist. The students are inmates who are being detained for drug consumption.
High on Life tries to stop inmates from returning to the high of drugs by identifying addictions, teaching coping skills and encouraging the sharing of experiences.
It is just one of a number of psychology-based intervention programmes conducted at the DRC to help inmates address negative thinking patterns related to abuse. For instance, another programme equips them with practical skills – like being more assertive around drug-abusing friends – to prevent relapse.
The DRC is in the spotlight after Parliament passed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act that would result in more drug abusers going through the DRC regime, which was previously reserved for those who only consume drugs and are arrested for the first or second time. Third-time offenders had to serve long-term imprisonment.
Under the amendments, the regime will be extended to those who have reoffended on three or more occasions, provided they have not committed other concurrent offences. The maximum period of detention in the DRC has also been increased from three to four years.
Superintendent (SUPT) 1A Soh Yen Li, who oversees a DRC within the Changi Prison Complex, said she will need more hands on deck to help with the expected increase in inmate population.
In 2017, there were 1,360 inmates in the DRC. It is not clear by how much this figure is expected to increase.
“What is really important is to make sure that our officers are adept and ready to provide this rehabilitation support for abusers coming into our system,” SUPT 1A Soh told reporters during a tour of the DRC on Jan 9.
Chief Warder (CW) 1 Muzakir, who works closely with inmates from admission to release to support their rehabilitation, said his job would definitely become more challenging.
He is one of 13 personal supervisors (casework) (PSC) who holds one-to-one sessions with inmates every month and ensure they have some money and a roof over their heads upon release.
There are a total of 13 PSCs. On average, two PSCs are assigned to 36 high-risk inmates.
With a rising inmate population, it is possible that the PSCs will form three-person teams with some help from their colleagues on the operations side.
“They can actually support us,” CW1 Muzakir said, noting that most of them have been similarly trained in counselling techniques.
The fact that there will be more inmates who have re-offended multiple times despite attending previous DRC regimes also means longer and more intensive intervention programmes, prison officials said. A typical regime lasts six to eight months.
Ms Lau Kuan Mei, who leads a team of in-house counsellors responsible for developing and implementing the programmes, said a longer regime would give inmates more opportunities to practise the skills, like managing emotions, that help prevent re-offending.
“Regularly, we will review these programmes to see the needs of the drug offenders here,” she added. “Then, we will do our research and design accordingly.”
In any case, new DRC inmates are first assessed on their risk of re-offending and level of drug dependency, based on factors that include employment, lifestyle and type of peers. This assessment will determine the intensity of their intervention programmes.
After an orientation phase, inmates enter the development phase, which is when the intervention programmes – like High on Life – take place. Classes are usually capped at 12 inmates to facilitate discussion.
Inmates also attend family programmes to help build stronger ties with loved ones, where they are taught to examine the nature of their relationship and how to better communicate. In one such programme, an inmate and his family will attend a two-day course separately before a joint session in the DRC.
“At different milestones, for example, graduating from the programme, we also allow the family to come in and share the success with them,” SUPT 1A Soh said. “At the same time, our specialists will conduct briefings for the family to make them aware of the support they can give.”
Next is the pre-emplacement phase, which is when inmates attend classes focused on employability skills, like practising good workplace communication and managing time and personal finances.
There will also be a job placement exercise for potential employers to interview inmates.
Inmates will finally serve the rest of their detention in the community to prepare for their reintegration into society. Depending on their suitability and rehabilitation progress, they will be placed in one of three schemes.
The residential scheme allows offenders to stay at home, although they have to observe strict curfew hours and wear and electronic monitoring device throughout. They are also required to work or study during the day.
In the second scheme, offenders are released to work or study in the day before returning to the Lloyd Leas Supervision Centre in the evening. Offenders under the third scheme undergo a structured programme while residing in a halfway house.
To help with the transition, offenders will also have a reintegration officer and counsellor. Counselling sessions are usually once a month, although they can be more frequent if offenders face issues like low self-esteem and rejection.
“So when they step down to the aftercare phase, they’re not alone,” said Deputy Superintendent 2 Chng Kuok Leong, who oversees a team of reintegration officers.
One inmate who will soon be transferred to a halfway house is 27-year-old Alan (not his real name), a second-time offender who has spent the past 11 months in DRC for consuming methamphetamine.
Alan said his most valuable takeaways from the DRC include understanding his true self and learning how to say no to drugs more effectively. “The coping skills that they teach us will help us better face our challenges outside,” he added.
Fellow second-time inmate Farhan (not his real name), who is also going to start his stint at a halfway house, said the DRC regime is more effective than long-term imprisonment.
“It really emphasises self-discipline and identifying our values,” said the 30-year-old, who has been to prison for other penal offences. “There are not many things to go through (during imprisonment). It’s more about free time lock-up.”