Fewer offenders placed on probation in Singapore last year, as less urgent cases were deferred amid Covid-19

A total of 428 new probation orders were issued last year, about 20 per cent fewer than the 538 in 2019. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Fewer offenders were placed on probation last year (2020), as the courts deferred hearing the less urgent cases during the circuit breaker.

A total of 428 new probation orders were issued last year, about 20 per cent fewer than the 538 in 2019.

Probation is a community rehabilitation sentence ordered by the courts that requires the offender to be supervised by a probation officer for a period between six months and three years.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) released the Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service 2020 annual report on Friday (June 4).

The number of orders granted depends on factors such as the risk profile of the offenders and their suitability to be placed on probation, said the MSF.

It added that there were 10 per cent fewer referrals for pre-sentence reports, which determine suitability for probation, from the courts last year, compared to 2019.

This could be due to the adjournment of the less urgent cases during the circuit breaker between April 7 and June 1 last year. The fall in referrals for the pre-sentence reports, among other reasons, was a contributing factor for the lower number of probation orders issued last year, the MSF said.

The vast majority served probation in their own homes, with only 7 per cent of those issued a probation order last year (2020) having to stay in a hostel.

Offenders with more complex risk issues who require intensive support and monitoring will be required to reside in a hostel, such as the Singapore Boys' Hostel.

The MSF spokesman said: "Studies have shown that the involvement of the family has a positive impact in the rehabilitation journey... efforts are made to keep probationers rehabilitated in the community and with their families."

About half the probationers were aged between 18 and 20 when they started their probation last year.

Over 80 per cent of the probation orders stretched between 13 months and two years.

Common offences included voluntarily causing hurt, theft and fraud.

Last year, 82 per cent of the orders were completed successfully.

The remaining ones were revoked. This was because the probationer either committed another offence, or persistently failed to comply with requirements such as attending the rehabilitation programmes or committed serious infringements at work or in school.

In October last year, the MSF piloted RehabProtect, a mobile application that allows probationers to track their progress in rehabilitation programmes and access resources, among other uses and benefits.

RehabProtect also allows them to schedule their reporting sessions and where they report to probation officers. The latter will work with them to address the issues that increase reoffending risk, among other things.

The app was piloted with selected probationers and is expected to be rolled out to all later this year.

The MSF spokesman told The Straits Times that the pandemic brought new challenges, such as the need to work with the probationers virtually and convert group rehabilitation programmes to be delivered online.

For example, one challenge officers faced was having to effectively engage probationers and their families through virtual means without compromising building a rapport with them.

During the circuit breaker, officers were also unable to conduct home visits to do spot checks to ensure the probationers were complying with the curfews they must adhere to.

The officers stepped up phone and video calls to make these checks.

The spokesman added: "The pandemic also impacted a number of families financially. Probation officers had to be especially sensitive to such realities and ensure their case management took into account stressors that might impact the probationers' and their families' ability to cope during the pandemic.

"Where needed, probation officers referred these families for support services."

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