Lessons US can learn from Singapore

I am a naturalised Singapore citizen, having surrendered my United States passport in 2010. I have resided here for 31 years, marrying into a local family in 1988.

There are so many reasons to count my blessings that I am permitted to live in Singapore as a member of a diverse and enlightened community.

Consider two recent incidents which are dominating the headlines in the US media - the lenient jail sentence given to a Stanford freshman convicted of rape, and the mass shooting in Orlando which claimed 50 lives ("Storm over Stanford rape"; Sunday, and "50 dead in worst mass shooting in US history"; Monday).

My younger American self would have focused on the perpetrators, absorbing all the sordid details about their depraved backgrounds.

However, living in Singapore has changed my perspectives and outlook radically.

My reaction today is to focus on the pain and suffering of the victims, while questioning what actions societies can take to prevent these catastrophes.

The US might do well to consider some measures that Singapore has implemented.

In the rape case, if the man had been convicted here, he would likely have been given a longer jail sentence and, perhaps, even multiple strokes of the cane.

After completing his sentence, he would have better prospects of rehabilitation and re-entry into society.

He may not have to live with the stigma of registering as a sex offender, as he would in the US, but the incarceration and punishment would be more commensurate with the gravity of his crime.

In the shooting case, we are reminded of how Singapore has been spared the painful ordeals of schoolyard massacres, random gun-related violence and armed crime, due to its prohibition of firearms.

Capital punishment has proven an effective deterrent and our country is free of lobbyists, zealots, hunters and gun collectors who claim the right to brandish automatic weapons.

We mourn and remember the victims in Stanford and Orlando, and we remain grateful for the institutions which ensure that we, Singaporeans, live in a reasonably just and safe country.

John Driscoll

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Lessons US can learn from Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe