Elderly embezzler gets 18yrs, an additional tenant to Singapore’s “grey cells”?

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Richard Tiang Teng Hoong, 69 years old, a former accounts clerk and an excessive gambler, was convicted on 15 charges and sentenced to 18 years’ jail after being proven to embezzle S$46 million over seven years.

Law enforcers confiscated his possessions including cash of different currencies amounting to approximately S$135,000, more than S$75,000 deposited in three bank accounts and a gold bar worth S$2,550. Proceeds from the sale of a Lexus car amounting to S$80,000 was also surrendered, S$2.2 million from liquidation of shares Tiang held, and S$425,000 from the sale of his share in a condominium unit at The Estuary.

The entire sum seized from the elderly felon came up to roughly S$2.9 million, or almost 6.3% of the money Tiang had pocketed over seven years. The court revealed that there is still more than S$43 million still unaccounted.

Paul Loy, Tiang’s lawyer, bargained for 14 years’ jail using his client’s old age as grounds for the plea. He asked the court not to enforce a sentence that would in effect be a life sentence, as it would be devastating for an ageing person like Tiang, after all, Tiang “readily confessed from the moment he was called up for police investigations,” Loy justified. However, District Judge Mathew Joseph said Tiang was a “deviously methodical” criminal motivated by “personal, rapacious greed.”

According to the presiding judge, the sentence has to be long enough to show that ‘crime does not pay.’ “This could be unconscionable in the eyes of any society that values thrift and hard work as a proper and right way to reach success,” the judge concluded.

Tiang’s incarceration will definitely serve as an addition to Singapore’s currently growing “grey cells” occupancy rate.

Ageing inmate population
Between 2012 and 2016, the number of inmates over the age of 60 has doubled from 359 to 651. Profile of elderly offenders:
• 75% of elderly offenders were charged with drug-related offences such as possession, consumption or trafficking of drugs;
• Those above the age of 60 had lower education and incomes in comparison to offenders aged between 50 to 59 years old;
• Approximately 32% of elderly offenders declared that they are suffering from at least one existing health problem.

Healthcare issue 
Singapore stands as one of the more successful countries when it comes to the care of inmates. Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been investing a significant portion of its budget on programs that help to deliver a humane custody and rehabilitation of inmates. MHA also recognizes that an ageing population requires a revamp in facilities which led to the announcement of improvements of prison cells to cater to older inmates.

One huge problem facing elderly inmates is healthcare. In 2015 alone, Singapore has spent $28 million/year for general medical and health-care services at Changi Prison Complex, with another $12 million/year as back-up for any additional needs.

“Grey cells”

With the increasing population of elderly inmates, the Singapore Prison Service has explored a model, the first age-friendly prison cell, that are retrofitted with anti-slip floors, grab bars and hand rails, among other features.

New water closets with huge push buttons and stainless steel grab-bars will be installed, while existing shower roses will be fitted with self-closing taps with large buttons. Grab bars and hand rails will also be mounted with tamper-resistant accessories.

Assistant Director of the Prisons’ Building Management department Adrian Lee said while the existing housing units cater to inmates’ basic needs, the proposed enhancements will better support elderly inmates and those with mobility issues.

“The Singapore Prison Service is committed to the safe and secure custody of all inmates, while the number is relatively small, the Singapore Prison Service recognizes that some elderly inmates may require additional facilities,” said Supt. Lee .

Criminal lawyer Josephus Tan, from Fortis Law Corporation, said the enhancements will give a sense of assurance not only to seniors behind bars, but also to their family members. “They can be assured that their loved ones are not going to a place that will lead to a detriment of their health… this is a big step to ensuring that (the inmates’) personal comfort and well-being are taken care of,” he said.

The associate director of Quahe Woo & Palmer urged the authorities to allow for more “age-appropriate sentences” and early release for senior inmates who have low risk of re-offending. “Hardware enhancements are useful for sure, but there should be a spectrum of measures in place. I hope this is just a first step,” he said, while also suggesting building dedicated facilities for offenders with mental health conditions.

Mr. Steven Lam from Templars Law also said hardware enhancements must be accompanied by more rehabilitative sentencing policies. “I think society is moving towards a more humane way of treating the incarcerated. Just as we house more elderly-friendly community facilities, prisons should not be any different,” he said.

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