Singapore—Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and MP Jamus Lim (Workers’ Party-Sengkang GRC) seem to have taken a question asked in Parliament online, addressing each other on their social media accounts.
On Feb 2, Dr Lim asked a question directly asking whether the Government would consider expunging the criminal history of ex-offenders of non-violent crimes for employment purposes after a period of proven good behaviour and reintegration into society.
Mr Shanmugam answered Dr Lim’s question via a written reply, asking the MP for further explanation on what he meant by “non-violent crimes” and adding that the Government’s framework to rehabilitate and find employment for most offenders is a safe and transparent one.
The minister followed this up with a Facebook post on Feb 4, writing, “Such an approach may not be wise,” as it carries risks. Mr Shanmugam referred to the recent case of a 29-year-old tutor charged with molesting a three-year-old girl in class in 2018. The man pleaded guilty on Feb 1.
The following day, Dr Lim also took to Facebook to clarify his question, writing that it was about expanding the conversation on crime and rehabilitation, and to “understand the nuances of the current policy stance”. He wanted to inquire if there was room to expand the scope of the existing programme.
He wrote that the focus of the discussion was aimed at those with petty-theft offences, or less severe crimes. He was inspired by residents who were unable to attain jobs related to security due to pretty-theft offences in their youth.
And on Sunday (Feb 7), Mr Shanmugam answered Dr Lim again, with an even lengthier response.
He wrote that in actuality, the topic of crime and rehabilitation have been discussed in Parliament “for decades.”
In a Facebook post, the Minister wrote that Dr Lim “now seems to realise that there are difficulties with his suggestion.”
And with regards to the MP saying that he raised the issue in order to “open up a conversation on crime and rehabilitation,” Mr Shanmugam wrote that this left him “puzzled” as this discussion has been ongoing for over 20 years.
“I am tempted to ask: Is the MP aware that we have been having that conversation for decades? He can look up the Parliamentary records. It’s not a new topic, suddenly to be discovered. And our laws, policies have been heavily influenced by our approach to crime and rehabilitation, for more than 20 years.”
He added, “So I am not quite sure what the purpose is, in making a couple of general statements and packaging them as new, (‘to open up a conversation’ as the MP says) – on issues which have been publicly discussed for a long time, and which have been the subject of serious policy debates and legislation.”
The Minister also added in his post links concerning the “steps taken in the last several years include enhancements to the community sentencing regime” as well as “help for high-risk ex-inmates through the mandatory aftercare scheme.”
He wrote, “I have asked our institutions to aim to be amongst the thought leaders in the world, in taking this approach,” including amendments to Singapore’s drug laws.
Mr Shanmugam wrote that “sensible, real world, practical suggestions, or incisive ideas” are needful in Parliament and that these types of suggestions would be welcome.
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