Govt looks to enhancing war on drug abuse: Shanmugam

It is also studying ways to boost rehabilitation process

The Government is studying how to enhance the Misuse of Drugs Act, including strengthening the rehabilitation process for drug abusers.

It will also look at ways to deal with abusers who commit crimes to feed their habit and to better equip enforcement agencies to deal with threats posed by the drug situation.

Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam disclosed this yesterday at the inaugural Criminal Bar charity gala dinner in aid of the Yellow Ribbon Fund, organised by the Law Society's Criminal Practice Committee.

The fund provides financial support for rehabilitative services for ex-offenders, as well as support programmes for their family members.

The event, attended by more than 300 criminal lawyers and judges, raised more than $470,000.

"What we are dealing with tonight is the downstream, when people have gone in, how do we help them," said Mr Shanmugam.

DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM

What we are dealing with tonight is the downstream, when people have gone in, how do we help them. But someone once told me, this is like picking up the babies in the stream, but someone is throwing them into the stream in the first place. What can we do to prevent them from being thrown into the stream?

MR K. SHANMUGAM, Minister for Law and Home Affairs, on drug abuse and rehabilitating drug offenders.

He recounted how he was once told this was akin to picking up babies in the stream. "But someone is throwing them into the stream in the first place. What can we do to prevent them from being thrown into the stream?"

He also disclosed that an inter-agency committee was formed in January to drive national efforts to address issues of offending, reoffending and rehabilitation.

It involves the Ministry of Social and Family Development, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Education, and councils and self-help groups such as Mendaki and Sinda.

He also said that of the concluded cases in 2016, for drug abusers below 21, seven in 10 were not sentenced to jail. For adult abusers, 45 per cent were not jailed.

He said the Government will come up with a system of differentiated rehabilitation programmes for low-risk, moderate-risk and high-risk abusers.

On rehabilitation in jail, he said the prisons are developing a model - used in Sweden, the Netherlands and Britain - that looks at the offender's reoffending risks, criminogenic needs and responsivity to change.

As for what happens after prison, Mr Shanmugam said he was "heartened" by the results of a public perception survey last year, in which 91 per cent said they were aware of the Yellow Ribbon Project's aims and two-thirds said they were willing to accept ex-offenders.

There are also programmes to support offenders' families, to ensure their children are channelled to the relevant welfare organisations and to prevent inter-generational offending, he added.

He noted that the two-year overall recidivism rate for the cohort of inmates released in 2015 was 25.9 per cent, "much lower" than other countries.

"To me, 25 per cent is still too high. We want to try and bring it down but that number has been very stubborn. Yellow Ribbon helps tremendously," said Mr Shanmugam, who also recounted stories of two offenders who succeeded in turning their lives around.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'Govt looks to enhancing war on drug abuse: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe