Helping ex-offenders get back on their feet


When a 42-year-old man was imprisoned for housebreaking in the 1960s, he left behind an unemployed “wife” whom he was not legally married to, and four children aged six to 15.

The “wife” had to go into prostitution to support the family financially. When her eldest son’s friends found out and teased him, his studies were affected and he left school. Her second son, who was mentally retarded, was also not in school.

This case was referred by Changi Prison to Mr K. V. Veloo, then a probation and aftercare officer with the former Ministry of Social Affairs. Mr Veloo helped find school places for the two boys, convinced their mother to leave the sex trade, and found a job for their father after his release.

This was one of about a thousand cases that Mr Veloo, now 79, handled during the first 15 years in his career, working with offenders and drug addicts. From these, he learnt the importance of providing support to a prisoner’s family.

Mr Veloo, who is married to a housewife in her early 70s and has three sons, said: “You can’t rehabilitate an offender divorced of his family.”

If the prisoner is the head of the household, his imprisonment creates difficulties for the family, such as “loneliness for the wife and the children going astray”, he added.

In dealing with such cases, he saw a place for social work in the prison system. In 1980, he helped establish the Prison Welfare Service to provide support to prisoners’ families from the moment the offender entered prison. Providing such support is now part of the rehabilitation programmes and services offered by the Singapore Prison Service.

Mr Veloo’s eldest son, Mohan, 46, said: “He was always involved with the community in one way or another… But he hates publicity, he would rather let his work speak for itself. Sometimes he did not want to attend award ceremonies and we had to persuade him to go.

“I’m proud of his achievements. What he did was not easy. A lot of self-sacrifice was involved.”

Asked what the senior Mr Veloo was like as a father, he said: “He was strict, but I knew he had his reasons for being strict. He is still a loving father.”

But the senior Mr Veloo may finally have to slow down.

He suffers from kidney failure and has had to be on dialysis since July last year, which has left him easily tired.

Even so, he wishes he could do more. He said: “I wish I were in the government service right now… The Government is putting in so much effort, and I could have done very much more.”


Excerpt  taken from The Straits Times

March 23, 2013


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