A “one-sentence question” on expanding the scope of the Yellow Ribbon Project was aimed at starting “a conversation about crime and rehabilitation” and “to understand the nuances of the current policy stance”, not to “propose a comprehensive policy”, said the Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim on Friday (5 February).
Dr Lim made his remarks following a written Parliamentary question he posed to Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on whether the Government will consider expanding the coverage of the national integrative campaign to former offenders of non-violent crimes, in order to allow their criminal history to be removed from public records and not have such history reported for employment purposes.
This is with the caveat that the ex-offenders have demonstrated good behaviour over an extended period of time, Dr Lim noted.
Seeking Dr Lim’s clarification on what he meant by “non-violent crimes”, Mr Shanmugam in his written reply on Tuesday stated that there are “many offences which are serious but not violent in nature, such as sexual grooming, outrage of modesty, criminal breach of trust, and theft in dwelling”.
Dr Lim’s suggestion, on the surface, “appears to be that records of such crimes should be expunged, which will in turn mean that ex-offenders could be employed in roles such as pre-school teachers or security officers, without their employers being aware of their history”, the Minister elaborated.
“The Government operates a framework, to rehabilitate, and find employment for most offenders, in a safe and transparent manner. And that framework is being constantly refined,” said Mr Shanmugam, adding that Dr Lim may submit “a more detailed suggestion” for the Government to consider.
Dr Lim noted today that while there are provisions in the Registration of Criminals Act that allow criminal records to be removed for crimes based on certain criteria, the decision rests with the Commissioner of Police in other cases.
The Sengkang GRC MP said that his recent Parliamentary question was inspired by his own experience with some residents trying to obtain security jobs such as being a guard at a condominium or shopping mall, but “were ruled out due to a glue-sniffing or petty theft offence, perpetrated in their youth”.
“There is an obvious risk from allowing a recalcitrant offender to take on jobs where they could pose a renewed danger to society.
“At the same time, there is also a risk that permanent labels to ex-offenders who have remained crime-free could inadvertently promote recidivism or jeopardise their successful reintegration into society,” Dr Lim stressed.
Thus, the purpose of the Parliamentary question was not to moot a comprehensive policy on such matters, but “to enquire if there is room for us to expand the scope of an existing program”, he said.
Addressing Mr Shanmugam’s point on ex-offenders of sexual crimes, Dr Lim said that exceptions to the suggested expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Project scope should apply to such former offenders.
Those convicted of such crimes, he said, “should not work with children as suggested by the Minister”.
The same principle applies to individuals with a history of substance abuse with regards to pharmaceuticals, or drunk driving ex-offenders with lines of work related to transport, said Dr Lim.
“I am certain that additional conditions, such as these, would be of value, and should be considered by the Ministry,” he concluded.
Mr Shanmugam in a Facebook post yesterday reiterated his remarks on the offences which are serious but may not necessarily involve physical violence.
Citing the recent case of 29-year-old British national Richard Christopher Monks, a tutor who was charged on Monday with molesting a 3-year-old during a class at a language training and literacy centre, Mr Shanmugam questioned if Singaporean parents would be comfortable with a situation where such an individual “can continue to work with children without employers being informed of his record”.
“It also means, for example, that an offender convicted of housebreaking could be employed as a security officer in a condominium, without his employers knowing of his record.
“Such an approach may not be wise,” said the Minister.
Mr Shanmugam stressed that the Government’s approach towards ex-offenders is “to help offenders rehabilitate” and “find jobs”.
“They have to be given second chances. But this is done in a transparent manner,” he said.
Several commenters on Mr Shanmugam’s post agreed with the premise of Dr Lim’s Parliamentary question, saying that ex-convicts of non-violent crimes should not be limited from being hired due to their criminal record disclosure.
One commenter opined that there should be “frameworks” in place “to monitor them for a reasonable period” after hiring.
One commenter posited that Mr Shanmugam’s omission of Dr Lim’s mention of “extended period of good behaviour following successful reintegration into society” is “somewhat misconstruing” the latter’s position on the issue.
A few commenters, however, concurred with Mr Shanmugam’s view, with one saying that an ex-offender “will have nothing to worry about his past criminal record if he is truly reformed”.
Another said that erasing past criminal records for the purpose of easing ex-convicts’ employment process is “telling offender everything will be back to normal after u serve your sentences”.
One commenter pointed out that despite initiatives such as the Yellow Ribbon Project, most convicts re-offend due to stigma from society.
Even the Government itself does not employ the ex-offenders even with the Yellow Ribbon initiative, they said.