According to a report in The Straits Times, a Mr Ng Chong Guan, who is both intellectually and mentally disabled has been sentenced to 12 months jail for threats he made to a woman with whom he was infatuated.
While I have no wish to trivialise the trauma that Ng’s victim must have endured, I do wonder if justice has indeed been served here. If Ng is indeed intellectually and mentally disabled, is mainstream jail really the right place for him?
Of course, there is no suggestion that he should be permitted to freely terrorise the victim or others. However, should he not be incarcerated in a secure home where he can receive the treatment that he needs instead of jail?
I understand that the justice system is two fold. While there is a need to rehabilitate, there is also the competing need for commensurate punishment to be meted out those who have committed crimes. While Ng may have indeed committed a crime, given his state of mind, can he really be held accountable and punished like a normal person?
The criminal system has been in the spotlight in the past year. From how escalating crimes are being policed (think Little India riots) to how suspects are being questioned (think Benjamin Lee) to how there appears to be inequality to how similar crimes are dealt with (think Vivian Balakrishnan and Teo Ser Lung in relation to Cooling Off day breaches), it would appear that we cannot evade the possibility that our criminal justice system may require some reformation and updating.
Going back to layman basics, the criminal justice system exists to ensure that society is protected. To that end, there are various considerations. The criminal in question has to be adequately punished in a way to befit his or her crime. The punishment must serve as some form of redress to the victim of the crime.
At the same time, such punishment must also serve the dual purposes of deterrence and rehabilitation. In certain cases, the crime is judged so severe that the system is of the opinion that there is no hope for rehabilitation. This is when the death penalty is meted out with the only considerations being deterrence and redress. I am by no means a proponent of the death penalty – far from it but I will save that for another article.
My point however is this – in Ng’s case, has justice been served? Given that Ng is mentally handicapped, is a 12 month jail sentence rehabilitative? Is punishing an intellectually and mentally deficient person like a normal person real redress? Or is it a convenient simplification of the process by finding a perpetrator, meting out a sentence and then closing the case? Besides, if an individual has mental issues, it may well be that punishment will not serve as deterrence at all.
What Ng needs is to be placed in a suitable home or facility where he can receive the support and treatment that he needs without being free to further threaten his unfortunate victim or anyone else for that matter.
While there may be broad principles that govern crime and punishment, it is important that these are not meted out simply in a box ticking manner. From how our laws are drafted, to how they are enforced by the police to the manner in which the guilty are punished, thought needs to be given to the individual in question.
In this case, I do not think that putting Ng in the general prison circulation would be the most appropriate measure to take. Unless it is a case where there has been a mistake in the reporting where the term “jail” has been loosely and inappropriately used. If this were indeed the case, there would be another issue we will need to deal with – inaccurate reporting that misinforms!
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