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Understanding the desistance journey of female drug offenders in Singapore through their lived experiences – Implications for interventions

Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) conducted a study – Understanding the desistance journey of female drug offenders in Singapore through their lived experiences. Implications for interventions – to explore the function of social support, changes in identity and motivation to desist amongst Singaporean female drug offenders through their lived experiences.

11 female offenders who were underdoing an 8-month community-based programme (CBP) were recruited for the study. Visual ethnography was used to elicit the participant’s interpretations and meanings of their lived experiences during their CBP phase. Photo interviews were subsequently conducted to better understand the symbolic meanings behind these pictures.

The key findings were as follows:

Negotiating identities

  • Female offenders identified most with playing the role of mother, partner, and self. However, these identities were not their most ideal, pre-incarceration due to unmet expectations in their relationships.
  • Drug taking behaviour was then a product of these unmet expectations these female offenders had in their past relationships.
  • By being in prison, the presence of a structured and artificial environment allowed them the time and space to rethink these identities and undergo a process of re-defining these important identities.

Repositioning anchors

  • As a result of re-defining their identities, female offenders have then be observed to identify key anchors that are able to assist them with desistance journey.
  • By deconstructing and reconstructing their observations and interactions they have had with people pre and during incarceration, participants were also able to prioritize their relationships accordingly, which were then scaffold by prison programmes.

Recalibrating expectations

  • After identifying the anchors necessary for desistance, participants were found to naturally create expectations for these relationships in the future (post-incarceration)
  • If these expectations can be satisfied post-incarceration, the likelihood of female offenders re-offending may be reduced as compared to when these expectations are unmet.


In reality, these expectations may not be met, which may lead to emotional turmoil and ultimately drug-taking if proper coping mechanisms have not been put in place. Therefore, offenders could be assisted in finding ways to manage their expectations via appropriate goal setting, boosting their human capital & self-confidence, as well as by scaffolding their family relationships.


  1. Ms Lowshanthini Panesilvam, Psychologist
  2. Ms Ishwarya Silvaraj, Associate Psychologist
  3. Ms Nur Hidayah Bibi Binti Haji Mohamed Omar, Social Worker
  4. Ms Syafiqah Binte Sudarmo, Aftercare case manager

Published on: 14 April 2020