Effective rehabilitation through evidence-based corrections

April L.Y Lin, Assistant Director, Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service

Dr Gabriel Ong, Senior Assistant Director, Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service

Carl Z.Y. Yeo, Research Officer, Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service

Eng Hao, Loh, Manager, Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service

Doris X.Y. Chia, Research Officer, Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service.

Dr Jasmin Kaur, Senior Assistant Director, Programme Development and Evaluation Branch, Singapore Prison Service

Author biographies:

April graduated with a Master of Applied Psychology (counselling) from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She has been working with the Singapore Prison Service as a psychologist for the past 9 years.

Gabriel is a principal psychologist and senior assistant director with the Psychological and Correctional Rehabilitation Division (PCRD) of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS). His primary role at SPS includes overseeing correctional research in order to inform and ensure the formulation of evidence-based correctional policies and practices. Prior to this, he was involved in forensic risk assessment and offender rehabilitation, specifically in the area of sexual and violent offending. A clinical psychologist by training, Gabriel is also an adjunct lecturer with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Carl is a research officer at the Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service. He has been involved in several projects (e.g. drug desistance and relapse, drug abuse thinking, profiling desisters and offenders, institutional infractions). With a BA in Psychology, Carl is currently pursuing an MA in Sociology at the National University of Singapore with a focus on drug abusers’ social capital and social networks.

Eng Hao (BA, MA) has been a psychologist in the Correctional Research Branch, Singapore Prison Service since 2014 and has been involved in research projects looking into several areas (e.g., violence, reintegration, and addiction). Aside from his research work, Eng Hao is involved in carrying out risk assessments for inmates housed within the Prison's jurisdiction.

Doris is currently working as a researcher at the Centre for Future-ready Graduates, National University of Singapore. Her research interests include psychometric testing and drug abuse-related research. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in Psychology from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Jasmin (D.Psych) is a clinical psychologist with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. She oversees the design and evaluation of programming for the forensic and drug abuser population. Her current portfolio aims at utilising implementation science and the science of behaviour change to inform efforts in Singapore on drug rehabilitation, behaviour management and offender change. She is also currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore

Executive summary

The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) adopts correctional research as a key strategy to inform policy and practice through Evidence-Based Corrections (EBCs). Local research is critical in contextualising overseas research findings for effective application by taking into consideration sociocultural and legislative differences between Singapore and other countries. In this paper, we share two examples of how correctional research aligns with the SPS’s key strategies and guides correctional practices. The first study examines factors contributing to desistance from crime while the second study explores barriers that ex-offenders experience upon their re-entry into the community. The two studies showed that quality pro-social support is important in the reintegration and desistance journey of offenders. Furthermore, self-efficacy is needed for successful desistance, while a lack of employment is a key barrier to reintegration. Findings from such studies act as “feedback loops” that ground SPS’s correctional practices in empirical evidence. This serves to ensure efficient resource allocation through targeted intervention, and enhance rehabilitation and reintegration efforts.


Correctional research as a key strategy

The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) aims to enforce secure custody of offenders and rehabilitate them back into society as law-abiding citizens. Correctional research is a key strategy in achieving SPS’s vision of inspiring everyone, at every chance, towards a society without re-offending. It contextualises international research for local use, aligning SPS practices with international standards. In addition, it provides evidence to enhance SPS operational and rehabilitative capabilities. By understanding and anticipating emerging correctional issues and challenges, correctional research helps determine the efficacy of new approaches for the Singaporean context.

Facts about Singapore

Two Storey prisons
Total land area of 48 hectares

Incarcerated population12,800 prisoners
221 prisoners per 100,000
Prison staff2,508 staff
ratio of 1 staff member: 5 inmates
2-year Recidivism Rates
2011: 27%
2012: 27.6%
2013: 25.9%
2014: 26.5%

Note: Data correct as at end 2016

Evidence-based corrections

Since the early 2000s, SPS has adopted evidence-based corrections (EBC) as part of its correctional research strategy. EBC is the body of research that informs correctional assessment, programming, release preparation, and community supervision. This paper shares two recent examples of how SPS correctional research informs practice. The first study examines factors important in desistance from crime, specifically self-efficacy and pro-social relationships. The second study addresses the reintegration barriers faced by ex-offenders in their desistance journey. Results from both studies not only informed rehabilitation practice in prisons, but also provided evidence in support of SPS’s community corrections policy.

Self-Efficacy and Pro-Social Relationships on Desistance (2017)


This study examined if and how individual self-efficacy and pro-social relationships helped offenders desist from crime. Desistance was defined as a change in identity, argued as crucial for long-term desistance (Maruna, 2001). Self-efficacy, such as hope and determination, is the desire and ability to act and bring about changes. Studies have shown the importance of self-efficacy for desistance (LeBel et al, 2008). Pro-social relationships refer to the quality and type of relationships an individual has in his social network. Satisfaction with relationships and marriage has been shown to reduce an individual’s tendency to return to crime (Sampson & Laub, 2003).


First, a survey was conducted on 78 male desisters in Singapore. They had been crime-free for an average of 8.3 years. Questionnaires measured their sense of self-efficacy, quality of pro-social relationships, and their identity (operationalised as criminal identity and generativity). Second, interviews were conducted for 44 of them to find out their desistance journey and how they stayed away from crime. Appendix A shows the list of questionnaires and interview questions used for this study.

Key findings

Table 1: Correlation Results of Survey
Desistance measures
Criminal Identity
Self-efficacy - General hope
Self-efficacy - Meeting life goals
Self-efficacy - Self-belief in desisting from crime
Social relationships - family support satisfaction
Social relationships - social support availability
Note: * p < .05. Correlational analysis were run to examine the relationship among variables
  • Individuals with higher self-efficacy had a greater sense of desistence. Participants who scored higher on measures of self-efficacy also scored higher on generativity and lower on criminal identity measurements (Table 1). This finding was corroborated by the interviews, where 40 out of 44 desisters had a language of self-efficacy when describing their desistance journey.
  • Self-efficacy facilitates motivation and taking action. Participants’ self-efficacy, which was key to their desistance, was seen in their motivation. Motivation included determination for change, having a goal, and the self-belief in their ability to change. Self-efficacy also facilitated an orientation towards taking action such as leaving drug friends or joining voluntary activities.


Taking Action

“There were some who mocked me, but I persisted and stood my ground in what I believed in. This is a choice we made to stay clean” (Subject 28)

“When you work it out [by taking action towards change], you will see results. [If] you think [but take no action] sometimes [that] is deceiving.” (Subject 19)

  • Individuals with strong pro-social relationships had a greater sense of desistance. Participants who scored higher on measures of pro-social relationship support and availability also scored higher on generativity and lower on criminal identity measurements (Table 1). This finding was corroborated by the interviews where 43 out of 44 participants mentioned social relationships as important for their desistance.
  • Pro-social relationships trigger and maintain change by providing encouragement and making crime costly. Some participants shared that the emotional support they received from people around them (e.g. family, prison officers) helped spur them to change.

Trigger Change

Maintain Change

“When my son came to visit me, he shouted at me, because I promised him that I won’t go into prison anymore … I realized that I hurt him so much… Yes, that was my turning point.” (Subject 1)

“But now…we have a family. Am I going to give up [that] just because of some fun things like [drugs]…?” (Subject 34)


Findings validated the SPS’s current rehabilitation approach. Findings reinforce the notion that offender rehabilitation should be a multi-pronged approach addressing both individual capital, social capital, and the environment the offender is in.

Individual capital
Focus on self-efficacy for change, motivation, and behavioural commitment. Every interaction is seen as an opportunity to impact change.
Social capital
Strengthen social capital and capabilities through family interventions and community support. For example, the Yellow Ribbon Community Project1 , organised by community volunteers, reaches out to offenders’ families.
Transformative environment
Create transformative environments with activities and processes that support and encourage behavioural changes. Transformative environments are specialised regimes which facilitate offender rehabilitation based on Therapeutic Community principles. Within prison, this can be done through engaging offenders not only during interventions and case review sessions, but also in daily interaction with prison staff.

Apart from studying the desistance journey of offenders, it is important to address barriers preventing the smooth reintegration of offenders upon their release. Addressing this gap, the second study sought to understand the reintegration barriers faced by offenders with and without drug misuse histories.

Reintegration Barriers of Offenders (2017)


The transition from prison to community is often a challenging period for offenders. They commonly face reintegration barriers such as personal vulnerabilities, ex-offender stigma, and adjustment difficulties. If these barriers are not properly dealt with, offenders may fall into the vicious cycle of failed reintegration, re-offending, and subsequent reimprisonment. Existing literature highlights five reintegration barriers: employment (Wilson, Gallagher & MacKenzie, 2000), education (Fahey, Roberts & Engel, 2006), social support (Visher, LaVigne & Travis, 2004), accommodation (Richie, 2001), and finances (Western, 2002). However, none differentiated between different types of offences (e.g. robbery, drug, etc). As a large population of inmates in Singapore have histories of drug misuse, this study examined the differences in reintegration barriers between offenders with and without drug misuse histories in Singapore.


Three-hundred-and-forty male offenders from Singapore were surveyed on their perception of the five reintegration barriers: employment, education, social support, accommodation, and finances. Participants with and without a history of drug misuse were surveyed. Details of questionnaires used to assess the five potential reintegration barriers can be found in Appendix B.

Key findings

  • Offenders with drug misuse as a criminogenic need faced higher employment barriers. This was reflected as issues with physical and mental health due to the debilitating effects of drug use, issues with labour market exclusion, lack of human capital (relevant skills, knowledge and experiences) and past criminal records.
  • Offenders with drug misuse as a criminogenic need perceived more support from their families and significant others, but also had more family conflicts as compared to offenders without drug use. This highlights that presence of support does not mean a lack of conflict in the family.


The study’s findings impact correctional rehabilitation and reintegration practice during offenders’ imprisonment and community supervision phases.

Market-relevant skill set
Equip offenders with relevant skill sets that meet market demands to improve employability. For example, the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprise (SCORE) offers offender employment assistance and partners SPS in providing rehabilitation services for offenders and ex-offenders.
Employment opportunities
Involve the community in offering sustainable employment opportunities to ex-offenders, especially those with drug histories. The Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) has been actively raising community awareness on the need to give ex-offenders second chances and remove the stigmatising effects of imprisonment on their employment.
Family support
Equip families with skills to support offenders in their reintegration and rehabilitation. Courses such as conflict resolution will be essential to manage family conflicts which may serve as a trigger for re-offending.


The two studies on desistance and offenders’ reintegration barriers support SPS’s strategic priorities. Both studies showed that quality pro-social support is important in the reintegration and desistance journey of offenders. Furthermore, the desistance study highlighted the importance of self-efficacy for successful desistance, while employment problems were one of the key barriers for reintegration. Findings from these studies ground SPS’s correctional practices in empirical evidence and highlight gaps in practice that can be addressed to improve rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. Overall, correctional research effort has contributed to evidence-based corrections approaches to offender risk assessment, intervention and rehabilitation regimes, operational capabilities, and inmate management. It also ensures that current and emerging trends are identified and localised. Correctional research findings are applied at the operational and policy level to support SPS’s strategic priorities.


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McWhirter, E. H. (2000). Perception of educational barriers scale. Lincoln, N. B.: Author.

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Appendix A: Questionnaire and interview questions used in the study “Self-Efficacy and Pro-Social Relationships on Desistance (2017)”






General Agency

Hope Scale

Snyder et al., 1991

Agency to Desist

Agency to Desist Scale

Lloyd & Serin, 2012

Social relationships

Family Support

FACES IV Satisfaction

Olson, Gorall, & Tiesel, 2006

Social Support

Social Provisions Scale

Russell & Cutrona, 1984 in Hoven, 2012



Loyola Generativity Scale

McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992


Criminal Identity Scale

Boduszek, Adamson, Shevlin & Hyland, 2012

Self-efficacy is also known as human agency.  It encompasses hope, motivation, desire, determination, and purpose in life.
Social relationships refer to the availability and quality of support from one’s social network.
Generativity is the individual’s concern for and contribution to the next generation and community.
Criminal identity refers to an individual’s identification as a criminal.

Interview Questions

  1. What helped you to stay crime free?
  2. Was there a significant decisive moment that led you to change?
  3. After release, what were the steps you took to stay crime free?
  4. Of all that we have discussed, which aspect was the most important contributor to your desistance?

Appendix B: Questionnaires used in the study “Reintegration Barriers of Offenders (2017)”





Employment barriers

The Perceived Employment Barrier Scale (PEBS)

Hong, Polanin, Key & Choi, 2014

Educational barriers

Perception of Educational Barriers Scale- Revised (PEB-R)

McWhirter, 2000

Social support

Social Support Survey (MOS-SSS)

Sherbourne & Stewart, 1991

Quality of Relationships Inventory (QRI)

Pierce, Sarason & Sarason, 1991


  1. Have you secured a place to stay upon   release?
  2. If yes, indicate quality of the   accommodation in the 4 areas:
    1. Ownership
    2. Living space
    3. Satisfaction
    4. Residential mobility


  1. Do you foresee   difficulties in paying for daily essentials after release?

1Started in 2004, the Yellow Ribbon Project is a community initiative in Singapore. It aims to create awareness of the need to give second chances to ex-offenders, generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families in the community, and to inspire community action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into society. For example, the yearly Yellow Ribbon Celebrating Second Chances Award was initiated in 2006 to recognise ex-offenders for their efforts towards recovery and successful reintegration back to society. Other events include: Yellow Ribbon Fund, Yellow Ribbon Prison Run, and Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition.