Parliament: Drug abusers who don't commit crimes to be channelled to rehab with proposed law changes

Inmates reading newspapers in the drug rehabilitation centre within Changi Prison Complex. Changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act could see a distinction between "pure abusers" and repeat drug offenders who resort to crimes to feed their dangerous habit. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) tabled in Parliament on Monday (Nov 19) could see a distinction between abusers who do not commit other crimes and repeat drug offenders who resort to crimes to feed their dangerous habit.

Drug abusers who do not commit crimes will be sentenced to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC), with shorter periods of incarceration and earlier integration into society compared to the current sentencing options.

Currently, drug abusers arrested for the first and second time undergo rehabilitation in the DRC.

But those arrested for the third time or more face Long-Term (LT) imprisonment. LT1 and LT2 sentences carry heavier penalties with jail terms starting at five years and a minimum of three strokes of the cane (for LT1).

"The enhanced rehabilitation regime, targeted at abusers who do not face other concurrent charges, will help them break the cycle of addiction more effectively and reintegrate into society sooner," said the Ministry of Home Affairs in a statement on the Bill tabled by Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.

"However, drug abusers who commit other criminal offences and harm society will continue to be dealt with very strictly. They will be charged in court and be liable for imprisonment and caning, including LT."

Changes to the LT regime were among a raft of amendments to the MDA, which was last amended in 2012.

The others being proposed include new offences to criminalise "contamination acts" of actively introducing a drug trafficker to another person or teaching young people to consume drugs.

Introduced in 1998, the LT regime was designed to protect the public from hard-core abusers, and to punish and deter drug abusers from continued drug use.

In the proposed "calibrated approach", first-time abusers who pose a low-risk of further abuse will be put on the Enhanced Direct Supervision Order (EDSO), a non-custodial supervision order.

They are required to attend counselling. A case manager will also be assigned to provide support to them and their families.

First-time abusers, who are assessed to be of moderate or high-risk, and abusers arrested for the second or more times will be put through the DRC regime where they will undergo various types of rehabilitation programmes.

The DRC duration will be, on average, one year for first-time abusers, 1½ years for those arrested for the second time, two years for third-time abusers, and three years for those caught for the fourth time or beyond, depending on their progress and responsiveness to rehabilitation.

The proposed changes will see the maximum period of detention in the DRC increase from the current three years to four years for high-risk repeat drug abusers.

Upon completion of the rehabilitation phase, they will be put on a Community-based Programme (CBP) at halfway houses, on day release from DRC or at home via electronic tagging.

Abusers will be individually assessed and released from DRC detention only when the Prisons finds them to be ready.

After completing the CBP, abusers will be required to report regularly to the Central Narcotics Bureau for urine or hair testing.

Likewise, the maximum period of supervision will go up - from the current two years to five.

The authorities will work with community partners to provide training and job support, as well as counselling to ensure that abusers successfully reintegrate into society.

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