Supporters swarm Law Minister K Shanmugam’s Facebook post to criticise WP MP Jamus Lim on ex-convicts’ rehabilitation issue

The Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim was hit with an onslaught of criticism by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s supporters after the latter stated that the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into society is “not a new topic” in the Singapore Parliament.

In a Facebook post on Sunday (7 Feb), the minister said that for over two decades, “there have been several discussions in Singapore, leading to legislation focusing on rehabilitation”.

“The steps taken in the last several years include enhancements to the community sentencing regime and help for high-risk ex-inmates through the mandatory aftercare scheme, amongst other initiatives,” he elaborated.

Mr Shanmugam also noted that the Government had amended Singapore’s drug laws in 2019 to “remove the criminal stigma from pure drug offenders, and focus on treating their habit, and rehabilitating them, rather than treating them as criminals”.

Initiatives such as the Yellow Ribbon Project, he added, are also the result of the Government’s focus on rehabilitating ex-convicts.

“Lots of Government effort and public resources have been put into these, and we have been articulating this approach, for greater public acceptance,” said Mr Shanmugam, referencing a speech he delivered last December at social enterprise Architects of Life’s sixth-anniversary celebration.

While the stigma of being a former offender may pose setbacks in reintegrating into society, Mr Shanmugam stressed that some ex-offenders “can and do pose a risk to society”.

“That is not new either. The question is: what do you do about it. We have been formulating policies, taking these and other factors into account, and saying so,” he said.

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.

Netizens’ reactions

Mr Shanmugam’s post on Sunday was flooded by comments criticising Dr Lim for his Parliamentary question.

Danny Ngiam, a grassroots volunteer, said that the Sengkang MP should “start with the condos” in his constituency “since they are so supportive”.

Noor Juliana, a People’s Action Party (PAP) member, similarly said, “Maybe the condo he lives in or those in Sengkang would like to hire ex-offenders who were convicted of robbery, molest, sexual grooming of the young, paedophiles and such? You know, “non-violent” crimes as he proposed.”

Dr Lim had earlier clarified that individuals convicted of sexual crimes “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.

S Ramesh Ramamirtham, a former Mediacorp reporter, said that Singapore’s internationally acclaimed criminal justice system and prisons rehab programmes are a testament to “a well tested system here to help offenders reintegrate into society”.

“What Jamus Lim seriously needs now is a pep talk from his brother opposition leader or senior mentor LTK [former WP chief Low Thia Khiang] in how not to sound silly in and outside Parliament,” he said.

Linda Chiang, a grassroots leader, alleged in response to another commenter’s remarks that Dr Lim had “shamelessly claimed credit for the enhanced Sengkang Punggol LRT project which was the brainchild of Dr Lam Pin Min”.

Dr Lam served as Senior Minister of State in the Ministry for Transport and the Ministry for Health from 1 May 2017 to 26 July last year. He was part of the PAP Sengkang GRC team that lost to the WP team Dr Lim is a part of.

Dr Lim was also branded by commenters as an MP seeking to put forth “populist” questions to gain “popular votes” in the next election.

One commenter said that while the intention behind Dr Lim’s suggestion is good, the implementation might be problematic as “every business owner would want to know the risk they are taking when hiring a potential employee”.

“And it should be up to business owners to decide that risk,” they said.

One commenter similarly said that regardless of criminal records, the employer will decide whether to “give the person a chance”.

One commenter concurred with Mr Shanmugam’s position against expunging the criminal records of ex-offenders for employment purposes, saying that “we would also need to be sensitive to those they had hurt by their criminal actions”.

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