Following Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s remarks regarding the Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim’s Parliamentary question on expanding the coverage of the Yellow Ribbon Project to ex-convicts of non-violent crimes, netizens questioned why child molestation and other sexual offences were cited by by the Minister as “non-violent” crimes.
In a Facebook post on Sunday (7 Feb), Mr Shanmugam criticised Dr Lim for “making a couple of general statements” regarding “issues which have been publicly discussed for a long time, and which have been the subject of serious policy debates and legislation” and subsequently “packaging them as new”.
“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.
“For example, on the restrictions on jobs that ex-offenders may be employed in, there is a framework, which has been adapted over the years.
“If the MP believes that ex-offenders (be they child molesters or have convictions for housebreaking and so on, as long as it is non violent), should be allowed (for example) to be security officers in condominiums, (without their conviction record being available to employers), he can make that suggestion. And perhaps suggest some condominiums where the approach can be tested out,” said Mr Shanmugam.
The written Parliamentary question Dr Lim had posed to Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam was 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 last Tuesday (2 Feb) 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.
In response, Dr Lim said last Friday in a Facebook post that his “one-sentence question” 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”.
Dr Lim noted 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.
Going back to Mr Shanmugam’s post on Sunday, several commenters criticised the minister for responding to Dr Lim’s suggestions with “strawman arguments”.
One commenter suggested the Government to “allocate more State resources” for MPs from alternative parties to peruse and to freely share relevant data when asked by such MPs, subject to “genuine national security concerns”.
The said MPs, they highlighted, will be bound by the Official Secrets Act to keep such data confidential when required.
A couple of commenters highlighted that Mr Shanmugam’s responses did not fully portray what was asked by Dr Lim in his Parliamentary question and his follow-up remarks on Facebook regarding how ex-offenders of sexual crimes should not have their records removed.
A couple of other commenters said that while there might be “historical gaps” in Dr Lim’s argument, he does not have the same experience as Mr Shanmugam and is “merely doing his duty to reflect concerns from his constituents in Parliament”.
One commenter quipped that Dr Lim’s Parliamentary question might be a form of “suggesting that he would like to be invited in the meetings” regarding the Yellow Ribbon Project and similar rehabilitative and reintegrative initiatives.
Several commenters highlighted the need for a sex offender registry in Singapore, which may lessen the problem of expunging some of the non-violent convictions.
Several other commenters raised the issue of classifying child molestation and similar crimes as “non-violent”, urging the Government to redefine such crimes as violent, given the gravity of the act and the ensuing impact on the victims.
One commenter opined that while it is agreeable that Mr Shanmugam and the rest of the Government have been working on rehabilitating and reintegrating ex-offenders into society for a very long time, there are still “fair, legitimate and proper questions to be asked about the RCA and whether it goes far enough as it stands”.