Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam expressed his puzzlement towards Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim's call to open up a conversation on crime and rehabilitation, pointing out that the government has been "having that conversation for decades".
Shanmugam said in his Facebook post on Feb. 7 that the conversation on crime and rehabilitation is "not a new topic, suddenly to be discovered", adding that Singapore's laws and policies have been heavily influenced by its approach to crime and rehabilitation for more than 20 years.
Lim, a Sengkang GRC MP, said in a Facebook post on Feb. 5 that he asked about removing non-violent ex-offenders’ criminal records "to start a conversation on crime and rehabilitation, not to propose a comprehensive policy in just one sentence".
Exchange between Lim and Shanmugam on the elimination of 'non-violent criminal' records
In a parliamentary question submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Lim asked if the government would consider expanding Yellow Ribbon Project to cover ex-offenders for non-violent crimes.
Contingent on an extended period of good behaviour following successful reintegration in society, they could be eligible for the elimination of their criminal history from public records, for employment purposes, he said.
The question led to an exchange on social media between the Sengkang GRC MP and Shanmugam.
During the exchange, Shanmugam questioned Lim on what the latter meant by "non-violent" crime, pointing out that some offences that are not violent in nature, including sexual grooming and outrage of modesty, are still considered serious offences.
Shanmugam also brought up an example of a tutor charged for molesting a child during class, saying that the man can continue to work with children if Lim's suggestion is taken up.
Lim subsequently responded on Feb. 5 that his question was to begin a conversation on crime and rehabilitation, to understand the nuances of the current policy stance, and to enquire if there is room to expand the scope of an existing program.
Shanmugam expresses puzzlement over Lim's call
On Feb. 7, the minister responded with another Facebook post.
Shanmugam pointed out that "policies have been heavily influenced by our approach to crime and rehabilitation" for over 20 years, such as the introduction and enhancement of the community sentencing regime, which gives those who commit minor offences a "good chance at rehabilitation" without unnecessary disruption to their lives.
"Is the MP aware that we have been having that conversation for decades?"
He also mentioned that drug laws in Singapore were amended in 2019, to rehabilitate them "rather than treating them as criminals".
In addition, the minister said that the Yellow Ribbon Project along with other initiatives are the result of efforts towards focusing on rehabilitation.
Sensible, practical suggestions that contribute to ongoing conversations are welcome, says minister
In the follow-up of their exchange on Facebook, Shanmugam questioned the purpose behind the MP's statements to "open up the conversation".
"I am not quite sure what the purpose is, in making a couple of general statements and packaging them as new, (“to open up a conversation” as the MP says) - on issues which have been publicly discussed for a long time, and which have been the subject of serious policy debates and legislation," said Shanmugam.
However, he added that contributions of "sensible, practical suggestions" were welcome.
"What we need are sensible, real world, practical suggestions, or incisive ideas, which will make a contribution to the ongoing conversations on these issues. We welcome such ideas, suggestions."
Previously on Feb. 5, the minister shared a Facebook video by the Singapore Prison Service, which emphasised the Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon's focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into the community.
The video also added that recidivism in Singapore is at an all-time low.Top image via Gov.sg/YouTube, CNA video