Luke Leong is a Singapore Government Scholarship recipient and has a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) with 1st Class Honours from University of York, UK. In his current posting as Second Superintendent, Cluster B2, he oversees all activities in his institution with his Superintendent, from tending to inmates' basic and rehabilitation needs and ensuring their compliance with security and safety procedures, to leading and inspiring his men to deliver the strategic and operational goals.
When Singapore Government Scholar Luke Leong was deciding on which agency under the Home Team he wished to serve, he recalled the Yellow Ribbon Project which had just been launched that year to help unlock the second prison for ex-offenders – the prison of rejection by society.
Until then, Luke had only known of prison as a feature in John Grisham novels. Curious to learn more, he took on an internship with Singapore Prison Service (SPS) – and found his calling.
"[The internship] allowed me to witness SPS's strong staff culture and meaningful work," he recalled.
"In particular, I was inspired by the SPS tagline of being Captains of Lives. As a correctional officer, I can contribute to keeping Singapore safe, while being a positive influence in the lives of fellow officers and inmates. This has a ripple effect on families and the community which we are all a part of."
Inspired by this meaningful cause, he decided to follow through and joined SPS after finishing his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at York University, UK.
Some ten years later, Luke is Second Superintendent, Cluster B2, which houses remand prisoners who are pending trial. Together with his Superintendent, Luke leads his team of officers and oversees all activities to ensure smooth operations and safe custody of inmates in his institution, from tending to inmates' basic needs such as meals and medical care, to ensuring they comply with Covid-19-related procedures that keep everyone safe.
With palpable pride and a deep awareness of the gravity of his mission, he made a powerful case for SPS as a place where you can find a fulfilling career, a fount of personal growth, and a chance to make a difference.
An Integral Role
"The criminal justice system, including the prison system, is an important part of society," said Luke.
In this vein, SPS plays a vital role in creating a safe and secure space to rehabilitate prisoners so that they may effectively reintegrate into society upon release. In this way, it ensures that those who have gone astray can always have a second chance to begin anew as good citizens.
As Second Superintendent, Luke enforces the safety of the prison by ensuring potential issues from the community, such as gang clashes, do not spill over. At the same time, he plays an active role in rehabilitating those under his care.
"Returning to prison would defeat the purpose of coming to prison in the first place," he asserted.
So it comes as no surprise that when asked for his most significant career achievement to date, the Second Superintendent recalled not personal feats of glory, but effective teamwork to bring about lasting positive change. Highlights included collaborating with correctional rehabilitation specialists, counsellors and community partners to equip inmates with skills to reintegrate back into society and receiving, together with his team, the Home Team Achievement Award from the Minister for Home Affairs for the development of a pre-release centre for offenders with high risk of re-offending.
These achievements express not only SPS' core values of Synergy, Vigilance, Integrity and Care that Luke and his team embody, but also the wide range of career options available with the organisation.
Career postings available include frontline prison work handling different operational areas and different categories of offenders to staff units that handle strategy formulation, policy implementation, transformation projects, community corrections, and more. Officers undergo a structured career development route map, supported by milestone courses and other developmental opportunities, as they progress in their career with SPS.
"Personally, over the past 12 years, I have had a good mix of ground postings and staff work. I began my foundational posting as a Housing Unit Officer, overseeing daily operations and programmes for inmates. I was then posted to the Strategic Planning Division at SPS Headquarters to coordinate different projects and initiatives across SPS. In 2017, I was attached to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna for six months. I engaged our foreign counterparts, attended meetings and participated in negotiations to secure Singapore's interests on matters related to drugs and crime. This also gave me insights into how our foreign policies and domestic policies are interlinked."
"After I came back from Vienna in 2017, I was seconded to Ministry of Home Affairs Headquarters to review and develop policies related to rehabilitation, drugs and prisons. In June 2019, I returned to the frontline again, this time as the Second Superintendent of the remand centre, which houses inmates who are newly admitted to prison and inmates who are pending trial. All these postings have helped me to see things from different perspectives, both in terms of reviewing policies at HQ level and implementing them on the ground," said Luke.
He also had some reassuring words for those just starting out. "New officers undergo structured and progressive training at Singapore Prison Training Institute, as well as on-the-job training with experienced officers in prison, so there's no need to worry about being inexperienced. There are ample opportunities to pick up skills along the way!"
After all, he himself is also a work in progress: "In the course of my work, I remind myself that I only start with my own limited perspective when managing an incident or approaching an issue. There is much to gain from tapping on the wealth of experience of fellow officers, regardless of rank, and engaging inmates."
Changing Lives, Starting with Your Own
Luke has come a long way from simply reading about prison in novels. He has become a Captain of Lives, leading by example and overseeing his inmates with integrity and compassion.
This would not be possible without SPS – its tireless support, continuous dedication and care for officers' personal and professional development.
In this spirit, Luke ended his interview with these final words of advice:
"Join SPS to be a Captain of Lives and inspire others towards a society without re-offending!"