Drug abusers: Solve a problem, create bigger one?

By S Y Lee and Leong Sze Hian

We refer to the article “Halfway houses may face crunch with new scheme” (Channel NewsAsia, Sep 22).

New policy means not enough places in half-way houses?

The article states that halfway houses in Singapore could face a crunch in the years ahead, with more convicted drug offenders likely to come their way as part of the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme put in place in July this year.

This would signify fewer slots available for drug abusers who check themselves in for help before they get caught by the authorities. Statistics show that there have been more such walk-ins in recent years.

Drug abusers who seek help at halfway houses voluntarily are not arrested immediately,  provided they are not on the Central Narcotics Bureau’s (CNB) wanted list. Instead, their details are sent to the CNB and they are then referred to the Institute of Mental Health, which will administer a detox programme.

Halfway houses subsequently take these abusers in for six- or 12-month stay-in programmes. They are also subject to urine tests by the CNB.

The bureau is reported to have said, “Ultimately, it is the individual’s responsibility to steer clear of a life of drugs,” it said, reiterating Singapore’s “zero-tolerance” attitude against drugs.

We read with dismay about the above story. Instead of helping more drug abusers to voluntarily check in to a half-way house – we appear to be making it harder for them – as some may find that no slots are  available.

Why not provide more resources?

The Singapore Prison Service writes,

The Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS) is a structured aftercare regime that provides enhanced community support, counselling and case management with tight supervision for a selected group of ex-offenders at risk of re-offending and also those who need more support in reintegration into society. It aims to support ex-offenders in staying crime-free and deter them from re-offending.

The Helping Hand, one of the 17 halfway houses here, projects the number of walk-ins it can take in to fall by half to 20. In contrast, the number of clients sent from the prisons for rehabilitation is expected to increase by 50 per cent to 120.

Why do we not provide more financial or other assistance to half-way houses so that there will be sufficient slots?

How much financial assistance and help do half-way houses get now? Given that these half-way houses are run by volunteers and not by government agencies.

If you are a drug abuser?

Put yourself in the place of a drug abuser. What happens when you walk in to halfway houses and find that there are no slots for you?

The best option may be to carry on at the best that you could and hope that you will not be arrested by the police.

Mitigate a problem may create a bigger one?

Ultimately,  we should focus on helping drug abusers, since we have a “no tolerance” policy on drug use and trafficking.

Imagine the scenario of having drug abusers wanting to turn themselves in for drug rehabilitation but refused treatment by the halfway houses due to the lack of spaces caused by the new scheme. The drug abusers are then forced to carry on their addiction till they are caught and thrown into jail.

Once out of jail, the drug abusers would be asked to carry on life with a jail record in their name. With the daunting situation one would be facing in the current climate of discrimination against past offenders, he or she would likely compelled to follow the same lifestyle and group of associates which had lead them to the drug addiction to begin with.

In trying to mitigate one problem (reduce the recurrence rate by sending them on their release to halfway houses) – we may be creating an even bigger problem.