Preparing Inmates For A Life Beyond Bars

An initiative from the Singapore Prison Service is preparing inmates for life beyond bars.Challenge goes behind the prison walls for the story. 
Preparing Inmates for a Life Behind Bars

Sentenced to prison for a drug-related offence, Charles* was expecting to spend his term doing manual labour or helping out at the prison bakery or laundry.

Instead, he was pleasantly surprised to be asked to participate in News Behind Bars (NBB), an internal news programme produced exclusively for Singapore Prison Service inmates and officers at its Multimedia Hub. Charles is now a newscaster, roving reporter and scriptwriter for NBB. “I didn’t realise that the Prison Service offered so many opportunities for on-the-job training,” he says.

NBB began as a radio news programme in 2006, produced by the Kaki Bukit Prison School. Since then, it has evolved into a 20-minute TV news programme, and is now shown fortnightly in all 13 institutions of the Changi Prison Complex.

Providing the insider’s take

Usually, inmates interested in the NBB programme have to undergo a nine-month multimedia training course first. Most of the inmates are selected for the course based on IT skills, prior working experience and academic qualifications.

The training is co-organised by the Singapore Prison Service and the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, a statutory board under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Depending on how the inmates perform in the course, they will then be chosen for the NBB programme.

Preparing Inmates for a Life Behind Bars
Scenes from the production process

The NBB team currently consists of eight inmates from the Tanah Merah Prison. Programme Executive Siti Syahedah Md Sani and her colleagues from the Multimedia Hub work closely with the inmates to produce the episodes.

Each episode of NBB consists of three segments. “Prison Happenings” shows the latest internal updates like the Yellow Ribbon Fund Star Bursary, “Home Front” presents local news such as National Day updates, and “Juice Box” is a lifestyle and infotainment news segment depicting innovative ideas and events in Singapore and overseas.

Production begins with the brainstorming process – the team scans the newspapers for news items that would interest inmates and help them reintegrate into society upon their release. Once the contents are confirmed, the script is written and sent for vetting and editing.

Preparing Inmates for a Life Behind Bars
Scenes from the production process

Next, the programme is shot in-house at the Multimedia Hub studio. During the filming of inmates reporting on the news, officers are on the sidelines, encouraging those who struggle with camera shyness or helping them with pronunciation.

Both camera footage and voiceovers are recorded within a day. Green screen technology allows for roving reporters to be placed at the news scene through skilful video editing. This is where editors and compilers like David* come in. “We combine real-life footage with what we shoot in the studio,” says David. “Special effects and captions are also added to illustrate the news in a clearer way.”

Meeting deadlines is their greatest challenge in producing the programme, says Ms Syahedah. “We need to work within a tight timeline of three weeks per episode. We also have to factor in the time taken for clearance to ensure each episode is suitable for viewing by inmates.”

Once the final product is completed and approved for viewing, NBB is produced on DVD, with copies distributed to the Prison institutions. Screened during mealtimes, it has become so popular with both inmates and officers that some have suggested the programme be expanded to feature more topics per segment.

Going out there

A few former inmates who worked on NBB have gone on to find jobs in the media industry upon release. No wonder Charles and David are excited at the prospect of using their newfound skills when they re-enter the workforce.

I used to be more camera-shy in the beginning, but [participating in NBB] has improved my presentation skills tremendously.

“I would love to find a job as a cameraman or video editor in the future,” David enthuses. “Editing can be tedious sometimes, but there is a great sense of satisfaction from completing an episode. The most memorable story I have worked on was filming a Prison Volunteer Appreciation event. The best part was hearing how the volunteers themselves were touched by our work."

While Charles does not expect to work in the media industry after his release, he believes his skills from being on NBB will definitely benefit him. “I used to be more camera-shy in the beginning, but [participating in NBB] has improved my presentation skills tremendously. I’m grateful to have had this experience, and helping other inmates through their sentences by providing them with outside news is also personally meaningful to me.”


*Names of the inmates have been changed to protect their identities.

    Mar 18, 2013
    Lisa Twang
    Norman Ng
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