Mandatory treatment order aims for balance in sentencing

The recent cases of Goh Lee Yin and Er Meng Joo are a reminder of the drastic consequences of untreated mental health conditions (Right treatment for wrongdoers; May 25).

As a result, a life was lost and a life's achievements were tainted.

It is of great importance that the right care, support and treatment are provided at all levels in society, stripping away the stigma around mental health and suicide.

We applaud the criminal justice system for its efforts to consider treatment before incarceration for offenders with mental illnesses.

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The dichotomy of treatment versus punishment regarding mentally ill individuals who commit crimes is a dilemma with no indisputable solution.

The mandatory treatment order (MTO) aims for the middle ground.

Introduced in 2010, the MTO is an alternative sentencing option for offenders suffering from mental conditions which have contributed to their committing the offence.

  • HELPLINES

    Samaritans Of Singapore: 1800-221-4444

    Singapore Association For Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

    Institute Of Mental Health's Mental Health Helpline: 6389-2222

    Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

    Silver Ribbon: 6386-1928

    Tinkle Friend (for primary school-aged children): 1800-274-4788

For someone already grappling with mental illness, imprisonment can aggravate his condition.

Time in prison is an additional psychological stress factor. A prison is also not an institute equipped to deal with mental health disorders.

For some, treatment in lieu of jail time may be their last chance at recovery.

That said, the order can also be revoked if offenders reoffend or fail to comply with the conditions of their treatment.

What the MTO strives for is balance in sentencing.

At the same time, a sense of balance is also the only thing offenders with mental illness are looking for.

Living with mental illness can make sufferers feel like they are trapped in a reality that is not their own.

Sufferers may know that their behaviour is not appropriate, but are unable to control their actions. Emotions get so out of control that they isolate themselves, for fear of hurting those around them.

Many suffer in silence, paralysed by the fear of letting friends and family know.

Living with mental illness can be at once chaotic and lonesome, and all that sufferers want is a stability and normalcy most of us take for granted.

Christine Wong (Ms)
Executive Director
Samaritans of Singapore

Porsche Poh (Ms)
Corporate Secretary
World Federation for Mental Health

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2017, with the headline 'Mandatory treatment order aims for balance in sentencing'. Print Edition | Subscribe