In an interview with Channel NewsAsia arranged by the Singapore police, a former Criminal Law Detainee (CLD), talked about how his life turned around while he was in jail under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA). Imprisoned as a teenager, “Ben” (not his real name) ended up getting his O- and A-Levels, and is now a 26-year-old university student.
Ben said that though many gang members like himself were aware that they could be jailed without undergoing a trial, he never believed it would happen to him. He had first joined gangs at 14, and then found himself arrested under the CLTPA four years later. Though he and his friends would start riots and fights and partake of gang activities, mention of the CLTPA would frighten them, as they were aware that they could be detained for an indefinite period.
Under the CLPTA, suspects can be detained in jail without the benefit of a trial, in order to maintain good order, peace and public safety, and their cases would undergo a review yearly. In 2017, there were 103 CLDs detained in the country’s prison system, among whom 86 were held for participation in secret gang activities. Such detainees make up most of the CLD population, and others are detained on drug trafficking charges, money lending without a license, and other such offenses.
On February 6, Tuesday, a bill was passed in Parliament, extending for five years the law concerning detention without trials.
Inspector Eric Toh, who has worked for ten years at the SPF’s Secret Societies Branch, said, “Secret society members are aware of the CLTPA, and it helps us keep them at bay. If not, they will cause much more problems; and influence much more people to join their gangs. The CLTPA remains a key legislative tool which is highly effective in suppressing secret society activity.”
Inspector Toh also said that the Act allows witnesses to testify without fear for their lives and safety, and also helps the police keep secret societies under control.
Ben’s arrest upset his family, and left him feeling lost and angry, especially at first. However, as a CLD, Ben was actually given a chance to progress with his studies. He had been a student at an Institute of Technical Education at the time of his arrest, and later on an officer encouraged him to go on to do his O-Levels, then transfer into the school in prison, and then finish his A-Levels.
Although it was difficult, Ben wanted to make his family proud. Even if he longed to go home at the start of his incarceration, he eventually got so busy pursuing his goal of finishing his studies. He was released just after he took his A-Levels.
Upon leaving jail, Ben got a job and stayed under the supervision of the police for a year, preventing from reuniting with former companions, or even staying out after 7 pm. He credits having to report to the police once a week as the deterrent for re-joining his old gang.
However, not every ex-CLD has the same story as Ben. Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has said that 17 percent of the CLD is made up of individuals who had previously been incarcerated.
Inspector Toh also said that the CLTPA is not enough to stop gangs from forming, and therefore the police engage in education initiatives as well as enforcement. Ben, as well as other former CLDs, joins such initiatives. Ben volunteered with at-risk youth and young people with mental challenges, until his studies at university made him too busy to continue with this.
Ben wanted to tell his story, which is why he did the interview. “At my age back then, maybe you’re curious or not that mature yet, so you get rebellious and you make mistakes. But whatever you do, reflect on what’s the consequences of your action before you execute it. Don’t follow what I did, don’t follow in my footsteps; enjoy your teenage life instead.”
It is not certain if Ben is the exception or the norm as a former CLD, as no statistics concerning these ex-inmates have been provided. But Ben believes that his years in detention allowed him not only to finish his studies, but actually to live to this day.