More young offenders being put on probation on rise in arrests, court orders

While around 83 per cent of the probationers are younger than 21, the rest are adults aged 21 and older. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More young people who run foul of the law are being placed on probation, a rise due partly to the increase in number of such arrests.

In all, 538 probation orders were issued last year, a 27 per cent increase over 425 in 2018, the Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service 2019 annual report shows.

While around 83 per cent of the probationers are younger than 21, the rest are adults aged 21 and older.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development, which released the report on Thursday (May 21), gave two reasons for the rise in probation orders.

One, the number of youngsters aged between 18 and 19 being nabbed last year has gone up by 8 per cent, it said, without giving actual figures.

Two, the courts also assessed more offenders for probation.

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

The common offences committed by the probationers include theft, assault, housebreaking and drug offences.

Last year, about half of the new probation orders required the offender to stay in a hostel, like Singapore Boys' Hostel, or be monitored through an ankle bracelet or an electronic tag.

The probationers are also required to comply with such conditions as returning home by a specified time each day and attending rehabilitation programmes.

The ministry's spokesman said: "Such conditions, coupled with rehabilitative approaches, inculcate values such as discipline, structure, responsibility and being mindful of the consequences of one's actions."

Meanwhile, the courts revoked 90 probation orders last year.

Of these, close to 30 per cent of them re-offended, while the rest persistently failed to comply with probation conditions.

The ministry partnered the National Council of Social Service to do a study to better understand the factors behind successful rehabilitation.

It found, for instance, that youths with "high family supervision" were 3.5 times more likely to complete their probation compared with those with "low family supervision".

Caregivers in families with high supervision are more involved in the youth's life, among other things.

Ms Lena Teo, deputy director of therapy and mental wellness services at Care Singapore, a charity which helps at-risk youths, explained that youths seek a sense of belonging.

If they do not feel the love and acceptance from their families, they are more likely to seek it from their friends. And if they mix with the wrong crowd, they are more likely to get into trouble again.

"If families spend more time together, to bond and understand the kids better, the youths can feel the love and they know the purpose why they must change (for the better)," she said. "They change as they don't want to disappoint their families again."

Adam (not his real name), 22, typifies the ups and downs of such youths.

He was placed on probation for assault and other offences for 18 months. He used to have a short fuse and resorted to drugs to relieve stress, including that of being denied access to his toddler son and tension with his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his child.

He was caught for drug offences while on probation.

What helped him to turn his life around and quit his drug habit were his parents' love, support from his former colleagues, and the guidance and encouragement of his counsellor and probation officer.

Adam, who has completed his probation, said: "I feel that my probation officer is there for me. And my parents went all out to help me change.

"I want to stay clean and stay out of trouble. I really gave my parents a lot of problems in the past and now, I want them to be happy. I want to lead a clean and healthy lifestyle."

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