SINGAPORE: A proposed harsher sentencing option for high-risk offenders could lead to such criminals being released earlier, provided they are no longer a danger to the public, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Speaking to reporters last Monday (Jan 22), Mr Shanmugam sought to clarify some misunderstandings and aspects of a new Bill that was tabled in parliament earlier this month.
If the Criminal Procedure (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill is passed, dangerous offenders who commit serious crimes – like rape or culpable homicide – could be detained indefinitely.
Under the proposed regime, the courts will be able to mete out a Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection – or SEPP – to these offenders. This takes the form of a minimum jail term of five to 20 years.
Those who receive an SEPP will only be released from prison if the Minister for Home Affairs finds they no longer pose a threat to the public.
Currently, such offenders must be automatically released after a certain point regardless of the threat they pose to others.
HOW SEPP WORKS
Mr Shanmugam addressed concerns that offenders sentenced to an SEPP could be detained for life, or at least much longer than they would currently be.
He said this was not a “clear understanding” of how SEPP works.
Some people could end up being detained for longer, if they show a lack of rehabilitation and continue posing a serious risk after serving their minimum sentences. But it is “also likely” that “some will be detained for a shorter period”, said Mr Shanmugam.
He made reference to a man who was sentenced to 29-and-a-half years’ jail and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane on Jan 11 for repeatedly raping his niece over a four-year period. He gave the girl a sexually transmitted disease, body-shamed her until she developed an eating disorder, and was caught with 12,000 child sexual abuse images.
Mr Shanmugam noted that if such an offender is released and subsequently abuses another girl, “the courts will say this guy is a monster and I better put him away for a very long time”.
“Because the judge doesn’t know whether (a jail sentence of) 10 years is safe, or eight years is safe, he might say: I better put in a much longer sentence based on the court’s assessment upfront at the time of sentencing, even though that assessment may not be accurate at the time he is to be released.”
But a judge with the option of meting out an SEPP would have “greater clarity and greater peace of mind because he can enforce what he thinks is a shorter sentence – at least, a certain minimum duration”, added Mr Shanmugam.
“(The judge) doesn’t need to go for a much longer sentence, knowing that at the end of that minimum duration, the offender can be released depending on whether he has rehabilitated or if experts will assess whether he’s still at risk,” said the minister.
“If they assess that he’s a risk, he may be kept in longer, and therefore the court may not need to impose a much longer sentence upfront. So actually, it might provide for people to come out earlier.”