Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill [Bill no. 51/2018]
Sir, I stand in support of the Bill. It is important to review the existing framework to ensure that we are up to date with the evolving drug landscape. I would like to seek a few clarifications and offer some suggestions.
Effectiveness of penalties as deterrence
I am happy to note that the proposed amendments as a whole reflect a move towards strengthening rehabilitation for drug offenders, and the whole-of-family approach especially when it comes to younger drug offenders.
Just last week, at a visit to the new Selarang Halfway House, Minister Shanmugam announced a three-pronged approach to better rehabilitate ex-offenders. This includes assigning inmates to the same case officer for the entire period of incarceration, focusing more on correctional programmes targeted at individuals, and getting more family and community support.
These amendments will codify the rehabilitative approach and align our legislative framework with ground initiatives.
I note that Section 33 will be amended to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for offences of consuming controlled or specified drugs, failing to provide urine specimens, and failing to provide hair specimens. Further, Section 33A on enhanced penalties for repeat offenders will be expanded.
In light of the refocus on rehabilitation, can the Minister clarify the rationale behind introducing mandatory minimum sentences and enhanced penalties, and how this might be consistent with the broader strategy for addressing repeat commission of drug offences?
Both legislative and executive action should be aligned to present a coherent message on our renewed commitment to rehabilitation and reintegration.
Family as an important part of the rehabilitation process
The family is an important part of the rehabilitation process. At the DRC, I understand that only a third of inmates use their full quota of two 30 minutes visits per month. This is already a clear sign that inmates lack family support and this problem might have existed prior to their drug problem. Strained family ties were perhaps one of the reasons they consumed drugs in the first place.
The new Section 34A will require parents and guardians to undergo mandatory counselling together with young offenders. This is a positive step forward.
In the same vein of embracing a more whole-family approach, I hope we will also consider a greater push towards a more forgiving and rehabilitative approach to all drug offenders.
Beyond focusing on young offenders, we should also help inmates currently serving their sentence to maintain social connections with their immediate family.
The family serves as an important social safety net upon the inmates release. Families help to support inmates’ efforts to change, reintegrate into society as responsible citizens, and reduce the re-offending rate.
Research has shown that family support is a key factor that prevents inmates from reoffending.
I have suggested this before and I hope that we can consider removing the glass panel between inmates and their children more often.
Today, family bonding and interaction with inmate’s children is too limited. Family support, especially interaction with their children, could strengthen the resolve of inmates to change their lives for the better.
Stopping parental contact with their child could cause resentment, a sense of abandonment on both sides, and weaken the social support structure for an inmate. This works against our objective of a supportive rehabilitation process, and also negatively affects the child.
There is precedence to remove the separation by glass panel on special occasions. On Children’s Day in 2017, some inmates at the Tanah Merah Prison were allowed an open visit where they could hug and hold their loved ones. Some of the inmate had not seen their children for four years until that visit.
Having physical contact with their families can be a strong reminder for inmates to turn over a new leaf for their families.
As stated by the spokesperson for Focus on Family Singapore, “Humans thrive when we know we are loved. When inmates connect and are reconciled with their families, there is a lower chance of them reoffending.”
A further look at support for inmates
I would also like to take this opportunity to applaud MHA for increasing support for ex-offenders. The Development and Reintegration Programme is promising, and aimsto help inmates upon their release. It provides continuity of care from prisons to the community, to help the inmates better reintegrate, and prevent re-offending.
Beyond the support offered after ex-offenders are released, I hope we can also provide more support to inmates while they are in prison, especially during the initial incarceration phase and especially by ex-offenders who have managed to turn their lives around.
I had raised this before during the Committee of Supply debates and I hope the Ministry consider including more programmes featuring ex-offenders and imparting life-changing strategies at this initial stage, especially during the initial two to three months when inmates are most motivated to change and commitments are more sustainable.
Sir, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of this Bill.