Singapore Corrections Officials Visit U.S.
(04/13/2011)

SAN MATEO, Calif. — A group of juvenile services and correctional architecture professionals from Singapore and the United States recently toured juvenile facilities throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The group, consisting of members of the Singapore’s Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and architects from Singapore and Carter Goble Lee, based in Columbia, S.C, toured the facilities with the intention of incorporating relevant design, operations and treatment lessons into Singapore’s juvenile correctional project.

The study group included four employees from MCYS, a senior vice president with architectural firm CPG Consultants in Singapore, as well as Paul Chastant, senior architect, and Bob Goble, principal at CGL.

The MCYS employees are key members of a larger planning group working with CGL and CPG on planning for the expansion of the Singapore Boy’s Complex, the only secure male juvenile correctional facility in Singapore. 

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“As the most densely populated nation in the world for its island landmass, Singapore faces the challenge of maximizing the efficiency of its land use and its building construction,” Goble said. “Consequently, even with the need to accommodate growth, either on its existing site or on a new site, the boy’s complex will continue to be the one facility for juvenile males found to need a term of secure custody before or instead of probation, community or family placement.”

CGL will complete the development of the master plan in 2011 — the first step toward gaining approval for either expanding on the existing site or a new site. Its architectural program, the site master plan and general building concepts will be developed in the next phase.

The study group visited the San Mateo County Juvenile Service Center in San Mateo, Calif.; Lookout Mountain School in Golden, Colo.; Riverbend Treatment Center near St. Joseph, Mo; Northwest Regional Youth Center near Kansas City, Mo.; W. E. Hayes Detention Centre in Ottawa, Canada, Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in Rugby, England; and Isis Youth Offender Institution in Southeast London.  

The visit was geared toward learning about facility layout, design and operations that would be useful in Singapore’s juvenile projects, as well as problems to avoid. Participants also learned about the facilities’ treatment programs, their effectiveness and the results of other treatment and rehabilitative programs used in the past.

“The Missouri model, which has received much publicity nationally and internationally for substantially reducing juvenile recidivism, was most interesting and different than all the other [lessons],” Goble said. “It’s fundamental principle is to keep groups of ten boys or ten girls together at all times for activities, programs, treatment functions, housing, sleeping, dining and recreation so that the group becomes cohesive and nurturing among all its members. The Missouri model also requires very talented teachers as the weekday school classes for each group of ten stay with the same teacher for all curriculums for the whole day.  

“Other systems in all three countries tended to favor single-bed sleeping rooms and placed a value on allowing privacy for part of every day in addition to sleeping time versus the 10-bed dorms that were standard in all Missouri facilities,” Goble said. “However, there was also agreement that Missouri had shown outstanding success with their approach and methods. This struck a chord with Singapore as their standard practice and cultural preference favors dorms over private rooms.”

Lookout Mountain School, for example, uses single bedrooms except for the “honor dorm,” where 10 to 12 boys bunk together. “When we asked boys in the Honor Dorm what they thought about giving up a private room to go to a dorm they said, by far, the dorm was better and coveted because it was a reward to have progressed to the “top of the ladder” at Lookout Mountain,” Goble said. “State Youth Corrections Director John Gomez and staff gave the group a comprehensive review of the history and evolution of juvenile justice and corrections in Colorado, which had a number of parallels to Singapore’s strategies.”

The concept of restorative justice with emphasis on learning responsibility, skills and competency was also integral to all the agencies the group visited, Goble said.

CGL has worked with Singapore’s national agencies since 1993 to develop facility needs assessments, architectural programs and master plans as well as to provide design assistance to local firms such as CPG Consultants Ltd., which is assisting CGL on the Boy’s Complex. 

CGL’s previous work includes a drug rehabilitation center, the new Changi Prison Complex, Woodbridge National Mental Health Center, a prototype halfway house, the Subordinate Courts and the Supreme Court of Singapore.

Although differences exist between the Singaporean and Western methods of juvenile correctional treatment, the tour affirmed that some core practices are universal.

“For all their differences, there was a strong commonality in the experience and beliefs that success in changing juvenile behavior needs to deal with the totality of the juvenile’s life, with family as well as peer group and individual conditions, risks and needs,” Goble said. “Providing the consistency of the same caring staff person to establish and maintain a one-on-one mentoring relationship with each juvenile was a common strong belief held by all.”  

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