SINGAPORE – An international conference for government agencies in the Asia-Pacific region to exchange ideas on correctional practices kicked off on Monday after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Officials from 21 countries will meet virtually over five days to discuss topics such as the management of prison emergencies and how to better meet the needs of offenders.

More than 700 signed up for the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators hosted by Singapore this year, including representatives from Australia, Canada, China and Japan.

The theme for this year’s conference – forging new frontiers in corrections – aims to improve prison practices through the sharing of information.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said the pandemic has been challenging for correctional agencies around the world, but it also presented new ways of doing things.

“We had to fight against the spread of the virus in prisons to keep our inmates and staff safe. Even so, we minimised disruptions to rehabilitation programmes and ensured inmates were able to continue engaging with loved ones when physical visits were suspended,” she said.

Mrs Teo, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, noted that many correctional agencies accelerated the use of technology to adapt to the pandemic, such as conducting inmate visits and rehabilitation programmes virtually.

She added that the use of data is important to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of rehabilitation programmes.

“The sharing of relevant data with community partners allows them to support inmates in need of help during incarceration and post-release,” said Mrs Teo.

She touched on the Employment Preparation Scheme, which took effect earlier this month. It allows suitable offenders to undergo skills training and education in the community near the end of their sentences.

Previously, offenders were allowed to be released from prison only to work.

“Offenders will be able to upskill themselves and enhance their employability. In the process, they would also be better prepared for reintegration into society,” said Mrs Teo.

Beyond working with community partners, international collaboration also plays a pivotal role in bringing correctional practices forward, she noted.

The Singapore Prison Service will be launching a leadership programme next year for international participants to facilitate the sharing of correctional strategies and practices.