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MHA, MinLaw consider longer jail term, further detention for dangerous sex offenders

A proposal to jail dangerous sex offenders for at least five to 20 years is being studied by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Law (MinLaw).

Such offenders would only be released after having been assessed as no longer posing a threat to the public, otherwise they may continue to be detained.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Tuesday (April 5) that the ministries are looking at the introduction of the new sentencing option to enhance levers to protect the public.

"The law provides for stiff action to be taken, and stiff action is taken against sex offenders," he said.

"Recalcitrant sex offenders receive even heavier sentences. These include longer imprisonment term, and sentences under the Corrective Training and Preventive Detention regimes."

Under these regimes, repeat offenders can be jailed longer than the maximum term prescribed for the offence.

Corrective Training sentences range from five to 14 years, while Preventive Detention sentences range from seven to 20 years.

Recalcitrant offenders would also undergo longer rehabilitation programmes and supervision, added Mr Shanmugam.

He was responding to questions from Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who had asked the minister what safeguards are in place to protect members of the public, in particular children and women, from recalcitrant sex offenders, and whether MHA would consider lifelong counselling and monitoring of these offenders.

Mr Shanmugam said public feedback was sought on the proposals in July last year, and that this was still being studied.

"I have asked MHA and MinLaw to study a new sentencing option, quite a novel approach, to give more protection to the public from dangerous first time offenders as well as repeat offenders who commit very serious hurt and sexual offences," he said.

Under the proposed sentencing option, such offenders will be assessed after serving their sentence, but will not be automatically released.

If they are found to continue to pose a threat, they would continue to be detained.

Mr Shanmugam said that the United Kingdom has tried such an approach with mixed results, but that he is confident it can work for Singapore.

He said that when a person commits a serious, heinous offence such as raping a young child, the judge may impose a very stiff sentence, but would not know if the offender remains a threat to society even after serving the sentence.

The minister said that in some cases, such offenders may go on to commit another serious offence literally the day after release, and that while this is not common, there have been one or two such cases reported here.

"And so really, you can only assess some of these cases at the point of release," he said.

He said that offenders who have committed serious sexual offences can also be placed on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, which provides enhanced community support, as well as counselling and case management.

Under the scheme, former inmates at a higher risk of re-offending or in need of more reintegration support, also receive tight supervision for up to two years.

"Today, a sex offender is given psychological assistance by the Singapore Prison Service's psychologist," he said.

"The Singapore Prison Service also works closely with the families of ex-offenders and community partners to support them after their release."

Mr Shanmugam added that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development currently work closely with the police to screen prospective employees who are applying for jobs working with children, such as those in licensed preschools and schools.

Ms Pereira then asked what safeguards exist to prevent convicted paedophiles from working with children.

Mr Shanmugamsaid that employees in licensed childhood centres are screened and that even cleaners employed by the Ministry of Education are screened. But he added that those working as commercial service providers do not need to be screened under today's framework.

He said that MHA has been asked to look at the screening framework, but explained that it needs to take a balanced approach, allowing people to have a second chance while also keeping the vulnerable protected.

He also said that considerations need be made when it comes to freelance providers of services such as piano teachers and swimming coaches.

"So the regulatory framework for that is not so easy to consider, but you know, we will look at it and we'll come back before the House," he added.

K ShanmugamSINGAPORE PARLIAMENTSEX OFFENCES