SINGAPORE - Youth offenders who commit serious crimes such as vandalism or hurt to others should be severely punished to send a deterrent message against criminal behaviour, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Monday.
The law provides a range of punishments and rehabilitative options for the court to impose, including community-based rehabilitation, reformative training, caning and imprisonment, he said in Parliament.
He was responding to Dr Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who wanted to know whether existing penalties could sufficiently deter youths from committing serious crimes such as vandalism and hurt.
"While rehabilitative options are available for young offenders who are suitable, the courts have also meted out more severe punishments if the offence was a serious one, including deterrent sentences to send a strong signal that such criminal behaviour will not be condoned nor taken lightly," explained Mr Masagos.
And when appropriate, the public prosecutor may appeal against the sentence if it is inadequate or does not reflect the seriousness of the offence committed.
The courts would also need to consider what is in the public interest. For instance, having youth crime take root in society, or go out of control, would not be in the public interest.
Just last month, 19-year-old Daryl Lim Jun Jiang, who assaulted foreign workers with his three friends, was sentenced to 10 days of detention.
He was also ordered to report to a supervising officer every day for a year, be electronically tagged and remain indoors from 10pm to 6am. He also has to perform 150 hours of community service within a year.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam, commenting on the case on Facebook last month, called the teenager's actions "completely unacceptable".
In recent years, young offenders have received stiff sentences and caning for committing vandalism and hurt, said Mr Masagos.
In 2014, three young men between the ages of 22 and 26 were sentenced to varying terms in jail and three strokes of the cane each, for vandalising public property with messages supporting the criminal activities of the hacker group Anonymous.
And the year before that, three young men aged between 19 and 21 were sentenced to jail terms of between two-and-a-half years and three-and-a-half-years, and received between four and six strokes of the cane, for rioting and slashing a full-time national serviceman at a shopping centre in Orchard Road.
"These sentences give the community the assurance that safety and security are being safeguarded," said Mr Masagos.
Young offenders may also be sent for reformative training at Changi Prison Complex, and the regime is "strict, tough and has a strong emphasis on discipline", he added.
Some, however, stand to benefit more from community-based rehabilitation, such as probation - which can include conditions like community service, curfew, electronic monitoring and hostel residency.
A key factor in cutting down youth crime is the high certainty of them being caught and dealt with firmly, said Mr Masagos. Prompt and effective enforcement by agencies, coupled with strict laws, are therefore necessary.
At the same time, there must also be crime prevention programmes held with schools and community partners to keep youths on the straight and narrow.
MHA will continue to monitor the situation closely, and regularly review the need to step up education and enforcement, or to impose additional legislative measures. It will also work with the Attorney General's Chambers to press for deterrent sentences where these are warranted.