Yellow Ribbon Project

Singapore Infopedia


The Yellow Ribbon Project is a national initiative aimed at encouraging the community, through various programmes and activities, to accept ex-offenders released from prisons and drug rehabilitation centres, and support their reintegration into society. The project was launched in 2004 and run by the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders (CARE) Network.1 

The CARE Network comprises a group of community and government organisations responsible for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. They include the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore Prison Service, Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society, Singapore After-Care Association, Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association and National Council of Social Service. These agencies formed the CARE Network in 2000, upon recognising that they had a common goal and their efforts to aid the rehabilitation of ex-offenders would be more effective if their resources and expertise were pooled.2

Realising that successful rehabilitation of ex-offenders depends on the attitudes of their family members, friends, employers, and community at large, the CARE Network created the Yellow Ribbon Project in 2004. Initially, the plan did not receive widespread support. The Singapore Prison Service’s public relations consultants felt that persuading men to wear a yellow ribbon in support of the cause would be difficult, as they might perceive it to be feminine. The yellow ribbon had also previously been adopted to present other causes, such as veterans returning home in the United States. However, the plan eventually gathered enough support to take off.3 The CARE Network believes that with the acceptance and support of the people around them, ex-offenders will be less likely to return to their old ways.4 

The name of the initiative was inspired by the 1970s song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”. The song is about a man who had just been released from prison and was hoping to reunite with his wife. Before his release, he wrote his wife a letter saying that if she were willing to take him back, she could let him know by tying a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree. The yellow ribbon was thus chosen as the project’s symbol of forgiveness and acceptance.5 

The Yellow Ribbon Project has three objectives: create awareness of the need to give ex-offenders a chance to start afresh, generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families into the community, and inspire community action to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders.6

During the annual Wear-A-Yellow-Ribbon activity, members of the public are encouraged to wear a specially made yellow ribbon in support of ex-offenders.7 

Other activities organised as part of the Yellow Ribbon Project include concerts, where inmates and ex-offenders perform with local and foreign artistes before a public audience; community art exhibitions displaying original works by inmates and ex-offenders; public education exhibitions and roadshows; and community walks that bring together ex-offenders, their families, and individuals from schools, religious and community organisations, companies and government agencies. During the Yellow Ribbon Fair, inmates and ex-offenders are given the opportunity to interact with the public and demonstrate their skills and talents, while members of the public can learn more about the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders. In addition, the annual Yellow Ribbon Conference serves as a platform for experts and community partners to discuss issues relating to the reintegration of ex-offenders.8

Yellow Ribbon Fund
Money raised during these events goes into the Yellow Ribbon Fund, a registered charity set up in 2004 under the Charities Act. The Yellow Ribbon Fund provides rehabilitation and aftercare programmes for ex-offenders, support services for inmates’ family members before and after their discharge from custody, and public awareness programmes in line with the objectives of the Yellow Ribbon Project.9

The Yellow Ribbon Fund raises money through public donations and the sale of music compilations written and performed by ex-offenders.10

In the 2007 Public Perception Survey, it was found that 94 percent of the Singapore population was aware of the Yellow Ribbon Project’s core message of giving second chances to ex-offenders. The survey also found that 58.5 percent of the respondents had generally positive attitudes towards ex-offenders. A post-media campaign analysis surveyed in 2012 showed that 96 percent of respondents knew of the Yellow Ribbon Project’s objectives, higher than the proportion reported in 2007. Since 2004, more than 1.6 million yellow ribbons have been given out, over 300 000 members of the public have participated in Yellow Ribbon Project’s events, and about $1.2 million a year has been raised for the Yellow Ribbon Fund.11

Internationally, other countries have strived to emulate the Yellow Ribbon Project. For example, Fiji launched the Yellow Ribbon Project in 2010 and replicated the Tie-A-Yellow-Ribbon Walk held in Singapore. The director of Fiji Prisons and Corrections Service, Ioae Naivalurua, had attended the walk in 2007 and was inspired by it. Prison Fellowship Nigeria started the Green Ribbon Campaign in 2008 to promote the socio-economic reintegration of ex-prisoners. In the United States, Eric Schelzke started the Apollo 13 Project to help prisoners re-enter society successfully, while in Australia, a Yellow Ribbon Project initiative was also started. Singapore has been invited by many countries to share on the Yellow Ribbon Project.12

May 2000: CARE Network is formed.13
Jun 2004: Yellow Ribbon Fund is set up.14
2 Oct 2004: Yellow Ribbon Project and Yellow Ribbon Fund are officially launched by President S. R. Nathan at the Yellow Ribbon Charity Concert.15
9 Oct 2004: Premiere of the film Coming Home is launched at a free screening at an open field opposite Khatib Mass Rapid Transit Station to a crowd of 6,500. The movie follows the journeys of three ex-offenders trying to reintegrate into the community after their time in prison.16
2 Sep 2005:One More Chance movie directed by Jack Neo premiers, showing the difficulties faced by three ex-offenders following their release from prison.
3 Sep 2005: The first Tie-A-Yellow-Ribbon Walk was held, with participants walking from Changi Prison Complex to Pasir Ris Town Park.
15 & 25 Sep 2005: The Yellow Ribbon Job Fair was held, with 17 companies offering 660 vacancies to inmates before their release.
28 Sep 2005: The first Yellow Ribbon Conference was held, allowing correctional staff and community partners to share their experiences on reintegration issues.
10 Sep 2006: Celebrating Second Chances Award ceremony was held to celebrate ex-offenders remaining crime-free and drug-free after their release.17
20 Aug 2007: Yellow Ribbon Project receives an honourable mention at the United Nations (UN) Grand Award, which recognises campaigns that address priority issues before the UN does.18
2 Sep 2007: Giving Back, a collection of original short stories and poems written by inmates and ex-offenders, is launched. Published by the CARE Network and National Library Board, the book features works written in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.19
22–23 Sep 2007: The Yellow Ribbon Community Art Exhibition is held to showcase the artistic capabilities of inmates and their journeys of rehabilitation and reintegration.
12–14 Sep 2008: The Yellow Ribbon Journey Exhibition Our Crossroads is held to share the stories of inmates or ex-offenders.
6 Sep 2009: The inaugural Yellow Ribbon Prison Run was held, with participants running from Changi Village into Changi Prison Complex.
19–20 Feb 2010: Yellow Ribbon@Chingay was held, with 11 ex-offenders and 250 community participants.
11–16 Sep 2011: At the 13th International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) Conference, 14 September was designated Yellow Ribbon Day. Yellow Ribbon, a book with the success stories of ex-offenders, was also published in 2011.
4 July 2012: The Yellow Ribbon Golf Tournament was held to fundraise for programmes supporting ex-offenders and their families. The Yellow Ribbon mobile application was also launched in the same year.
15 September 2013: The largest human giant yellow ribbon was formed, reflecting the tremendous effort made in supporting ex-offenders.
19 October 2013: The Yellow Ribbon Project Commemorative Book, The Courage to Believe was launched, marking the project’s 10th anniversary.20

Valerie Chew and Rebecca Tan

1. Tracy Sua, “Helping Ex-offenders Get a 2nd Chance,” Straits Times, 5 November 2005, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “Yellow Ribbon Project,” Yellow Ribbon Project, accessed 31 March 2021.
2. “Yellow Ribbon Project”; Singapore Prison Service, The Courage to Believe: Unlocking Life’s Second Chances (Singapore: Singapore Prison Service, 2013), 26. (Call no. RSING 364.8095957 COU)
3. Chua Chin Kiat, The Making of Captains of Lives: Prison Reform in Singapore, 1999 to 2007 (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, 2013), 86. (Call no. RSING 365.7095957090511 CHU)
4. “Yellow Ribbon Project.”
5. Lena Leong, “Towards a Society without Re-offending,” Civil Service College, 10 November 2014. (From NLB’s Web Archive Singapore)
6. “Yellow Ribbon Project.”
7. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 36.
8. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 36–49.
9. “Yellow Ribbon Fund,” Yellow Ribbon Project, accessed 31 March 2021; Sua, “Helping Ex-offenders.”
10. Sua, “Helping Ex-offenders.”
11. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 67.
12. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 78–83.
13. “CARE Network,” Yellow Ribbon Project, accessed 31 March 2021.
14. “Yellow Ribbon Fund.”
15. Tie a yellow ribbon… (2004, October 4). Straits Times, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 37; “Movie Premiere: Coming Home,” Today, 13 September 2004, 9; “Page 37 Advertisements Column 1,” Today, 8 October 2004, 37 (From NewspaperSG); Coming Home, produced by Gateway Entertainment for CARE Network in association with the Media Development Authority, 2004, motion picture. (Call no. RSING 791.4372 COM)
17. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 38–42.
18. Nicholas Fang, “S’pore Firm Gets UN Award for Prison-rehab Campaign,” Straits Times, 28 August 2007, 39. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 36–49; Giving back: Winning Stories and Poems from Behind Bars (Singapore: CARE Network and National Library Board, 2007). (Call no. RSING 808.899206927 GIV)
20. Singapore Prison Service, Courage to Believe, 44–65.

Further resources
Andrew Duffy, “Life beyond the Bars,” Straits Times, 10 October 2006, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

Hoe Pei Shan, “Strumming a Song of New Hope,” Straits Times, 21 December 2014, 12. (From NewspaperSG)

Lim Yi Han, (2014, October 29). “Bursary Named after Veteran Lawyer,” Straits Times, 5. (From NewspaperSG)

More than 9,000 People Take Part in Yellow Ribbon Run,” New Paper, 19 September 2011, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)

T. Soh, Govt Ministries Allowed to Recruit Ex-offenders,” Straits Times, 24 September 2005, 14. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at 31 March 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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