Panel to study how to reduce number of youth re-offenders

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that every youth who slips back into crime is one life wasted.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that every youth who slips back into crime is one life wasted.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Rate down with better community and school support, but issue still of concern: Minister

Although the proportion of juveniles in Singapore who return to crime has declined, it is still too high, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee.

To address the problem, an inter-ministerial committee will be set up to suggest how these youngsters can be given more help to mend their ways.

The committee will comprise officials from the ministries of Education, Home Affairs as well as Social and Family Development (MSF).

Explaining the move, Mr Lee said that every youth who slips back into crime is one life wasted.

"It is not just numbers, these are lives you are talking about. So, we shouldn't rest on our laurels and say, 'Well, our recidivism rate is pretty low, so let it be'," he told reporters on Tuesday when he unveiled major plans of his ministry.

The latest figures show that among those who had completed rehabilitation in 2011, 16.7 per cent re-offended within three years. This is a drop from 20.3 per cent among the 2007 cohort that was tracked for three years until 2010. These juveniles were aged between seven and under-16.

A similar pattern was seen among offenders below age 21.

The MSF found that 10.7 per cent who finished their rehabilitation in 2012 re-offended within three years, down from 13.8 per cent for those discharged from rehabilitation in 2010.

One reason for the slide is better community and school support, said Mr Lee, who took charge of the ministry last September.

Other plans in the pipeline include making divorce proceedings less adversarial and introducing a law by June to better protect disabled and vulnerable adults from abuse, he told the media after he toured the PAP Community Foundation's pre-school in Marsiling.

The father of three, whose youngest is aged four, shared that early childhood education is an area close to his heart.

He reiterated that the Government will, by 2023, double its annual spending on the pre-school sector to $1.7 billion, as well as add another 40,000 childcare places.

In his first extensive interview since he took over the MSF from Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, who went on to be Speaker of Parliament, Mr Lee said he had spent the past months listening to colleagues and those on the ground, and familiarising himself with his new portfolio.

Asked if his appointment took him by surprise, Mr Lee, who described himself as "a bit quiet", said: "We will serve in the way we are asked to serve."

On youth offenders, he acknowledged that getting them to stay out of trouble is not easy, even after intensive counselling and intervention. One crime of concern is drug-taking, which can be a pernicious habit to shake off, he said.

Social workers interviewed say youth tend to re-offend when they continue to be in bad company and do not get support and guidance at home.

"They may also lack constructive activities to occupy themselves in their free time," said Ms Tan Bee Keow, director of youth service at the Singapore Children's Society, adding: "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2018, with the headline 'Panel to study how to reduce number of youth re-offenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe