School staff can only accompany young suspects from school to police station

A multi-agency review committee was earlier formed to consider the State Coroner’s suggestions in interviewing young suspects and has reviewed that any young person conveyed from one of the schools to the Police station for an interview will generally be accompanied by an appointed school personnel familiar to the young person.

This is the response filed by Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong, Non-Constituency Member of Parliament who asked the Minister for Education (Schools) whether the Ministry will be accepting and adopting all the suggestions made by the State Coroner to mitigate the risks of suicide and adverse psychological effects for young people under police investigation.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) is part of a multi-agency review committee formed to consider the State Coroner’s suggestions, which is led by the Ministry of Home Affairs, and includes the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The Ministry said that as announced by the Minister for Home Affairs last week, the committee has undertaken a comprehensive review of the investigation processes for young persons. Following from its recommendations, the Government will implement further measures that will provide enhanced support for the well-being of young persons under police investigation, which will be implemented in schools by February 2017.

MOE said that any young person conveyed from one of our schools to the Police station for an interview will generally be accompanied by an appointed school personnel familiar to the young person which could be his or her teacher, Year Head, or School Counsellor.

The school will then provide the police relevant information for all cases to better understand the young person’s personal circumstances. The police will inform the parent about the arrest as soon as possible.

The Ministry also said that the review committee has also recommended the implementation of an Appropriate Adult (AA) Scheme for young suspects, as announced by the Minister for Home Affairs last week.

According to the Ministry, this Appropriate Adult will provide emotional support and observe the young person for signs of psychological distress during the interview by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA). Thereafter, the school personnel will keep in touch with the parent to work out follow-up steps to look after the young person’s well-being. This includes monitoring his or her well-being and making counselling support available.

“These efforts by our schools, other government agencies, parents and the community, will support the well-being of young persons under investigation,” the Ministry said.

Mr Daniel then asked, since a school staff member would accompany a young suspect being picked up by the police from school, would it be better for this familiar face to stay on during the interview instead of having a stranger who might act as a new layer that complicates things.

MOE said that AA is more suitable as the person in attendance should be neutral. SC well-placed to support the young person, but may not be neutral.

Isaac Than posted a comment on TODAY’s article, writing, “Speaking from experience, there are investigating officers (IOs) who presumed that you are guilty and will give you attitude throughout the process.”

“Also, some IOs are not proficient in English. Thus, there is a risk that the statement being written down by them will be different than what you say. Suspects whose English proficiency is as bad and those who decide not to speak in their mother tongue may end up signing a statement that may incriminate them even though they are innocent,” he wrote.

Ed S. Foo also wrote, “The issue of interrogating young suspect(s) certainly requires a different skill set and boundaries for interrogating them should also be looked it. What about after the interrogation, shouldn’t the young suspect have counselling support and his or her mental state assessed during and after interrogation. Perhaps a separate department in the police space, with define protocol, can do that, if efficacy of investigation is the issue. Having a school staff accompany young suspect does not address many other issues and is a simplistic reactive measure to show something is done.”

“Sadly, this was not mentioned and I hope further focus is given. Why do we treat our youth differently than adults in our society from age for driving to national service (for men), it’s because society regards their mental and physical state as less developed or mature compared to an adult.”

“Although it will require serious effort, our elected policy makers must look further into this and discharge their responsibilities comprehensively looking at all angles affecting the young suspect. With the completion of that, let us, concerned Singaporeans and Parents know had been done,” he added.