Parliament: Increase community-based sentencing options for those with mental disorders: Murali Pillai

Mr Murali PIllai also spoke about how the court is curtailed from handing out community sentences when offences have a mandatory or minimum sentence. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The courts should be given more power to tailor sentences for offenders with mental disorders, some of who may not be eligible for community-based sentencing currently, said Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) on Monday (Sept 11).

While offenders with disorders such as depression or schizophrenia are provided treatment, others with "more challenging psychiatric illnesses", such as antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, or mental retardation, may not receive adequate help, he added in Parliament.

He called for more community-based support for such offenders.

Mr Murali, who filed an adjournment motion on the topic, said: "The lack of treatment for, or appropriate management of, the psychiatric condition of such offenders would mean that they may exit prisons without the additional social and emotional skills to manage life, with the result that the risk of re-offending is not lessened."

Currently, offenders with mental disorders can be given a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO) during sentencing.

However, those offenders who are given a "guarded prognosis" - meaning that psychiatric treatment alone is unlikely to change their behaviour - are not eligible for a MTO.

Such offenders are typically given a jail term, said Mr Murali.

He suggested that other types of community sentencing options should be made available, such as mandatory in-patient treatment while serving a jail term, with monitoring continuing even after the sentence has been served.

He said such options have been implemented in the United Kingdom.

In response, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah said offenders who have mental disorders may not always qualify for an MTO.

"It would pose a danger to the public, and undermine confidence in our criminal justice system if offenders, who would otherwise be imprisoned, are allowed to remain in the community even though there is no prospect that the underlying cause of their offending can be addressed through medical treatment," she said.

However, she added, it does not mean they are not given treatment in jail. Those diagnosed with mental health conditions are "seen regularly by a prison psychiatrist".

Mr Murali also spoke about young offenders with mental disorders, saying that they could be put in a separate rehabilitation programme supported by a "structured, community-focused legal framework and budget".

This would complement the conditional warnings that are given to such offenders in lieu of prosecution, he added, suggesting that an inter-ministerial panel look into the issue.

Imposing conditions on them will not help to ensure they do not re-offend, he said.

"Often, the offender's family alone is simply unable to cope; especially a broken family," he added.

Mr Murali also spoke about how the court is curtailed from handing out community sentences when offences have a mandatory or specified minimum sentence.

This may sometimes result in situations where community sentences are not available for less serious offences, he said calling for a review of the system.

Ms Indranee said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) will study his comments, adding that there are plans to expand the community-based sentencing scheme and range of offences eligible for MTOs.

The Law Ministry is also prepared to look into community sentencing for offenders who have committed less serious offences, for which there is a specified minimum sentence, she said.

But she cautioned that there must be a "balanced approach", as not all crimes are suitable for community-based sentencing.

"We will need to draw a line somewhere, even if that means some will fall outside the regime," she said.

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