On Assignment
From Gang Violence to Giving Back
As a former gang member who was detained for four years under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, Ben has since found new purpose in life and is making a better future for himself.


GRAPHIC: Home Team News

Clean-cut, soft-spoken and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, Ben looks like any undergraduate you’d find on campus. But his personal story is hardly typical; having joined a Secret Society as a youth and engaged in gang activities, Benjamin was detained under the CLTPA for four years before being released and placed on a Police Supervision Order in 2015. During his detention, Ben found a new purpose in life, studying for and passing his GCE “O” and “A” Level Examinations before enrolling in a university. Choosing his words with care, he explained how he journeyed from gang violence to giving back to others.

Gang Years

I was 14 when I joined a Secret Society and got involved in gang activities.

At that age, I was quite playful, and curious. My friends asked me to join, so I just went with them. I had no goals in life, so I just followed. I was involved in staring incidents quite a few times; we’d start to quarrel, and sometimes end up in fights and rioting. It slowly escalated. I’m not the type of person with the guts to try these things, but when you’re in this type of environment, you tend to become more violent.

A few Secret Society activities incidents led to me being detained. This was in 2011, and I was 18. At first, I was shocked. But after a few days, I accepted the fact that I had to face the consequences. I knew about the CLTPA; it was known among us, but I didn’t expect that I’d be detained.

Home Team News
GRAPHIC: Home Team News

Starting on a New Path

I felt confused and totally lost, thinking about when I could go back to my family. I did a lot of reflection.

I first learnt about an opportunity to study from an officer in Prison. He told me to do something in my life, to learn and further my studies. He recommended that I sign up for my “O” Levels, so I went ahead. After one year, I was transferred to the prison school, and studied for my “A” Levels too.

For the four years that I was in prison, my parents visited me, and our relationship became closer. My mom always told me that I was clever, but when I was 13 or 14, I became rebellious, and didn’t want to study anymore. I lost my focus. So I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of studying, and do my family proud.

I also read a lot of self-help books, which taught me how to love myself. These were what prevented me from going back to my old life.

In my first year, I was praying to get out of prison. But in my second and third years, I didn’t think of it anymore, because I really wanted to pursue my “O” and “A” Levels. And I knew that if I was out of prison, I wouldn’t have this opportunity. If I weren’t caught and detained, I don’t think I’d be studying today. Or maybe I wouldn’t be alive.

In 2015, right after I did my “A” Levels, I was informed that I’d be placed on Police Supervision. I was so happy; I felt that my road has been planned. I applied for a few universities and was accepted.

Giving Back

Two years ago, I started volunteering to help youths at risk and children with mental disabilities. I was a youth at risk too, and this type of social work is more relevant to me, and I wanted to help them.

I volunteered with a programme that helps youths at risk become more responsible by taking care of animals. We teach them how to clean and interact with the animals. The programme takes several months, and we see how youths who were at first very defiant can change, showing compassion and patience. These are the values we try to instil in them. As for the children with disabilities, the programme trains them to manage the animals, in the hope that they can be offered jobs.

A Changed Man

I do share with close friends about my past as a Criminal Law detainee. I don’t like to hide things, and it would be tiring to hide this all the time. I also care about my family more, and everything I do, I’ll think about them first.

At 13 or 14, when you become rebellious, you do a lot of things that you shouldn’t. You make mistakes. So I think it’s important for me to come out and tell people that whatever you do, you need to love yourself, and reflect on the consequences of your actions.

The Criminal Law Temporary Provisions Act (CLTPA)

The Bill to extend the CLTPA was passed in Parliament on 6 February 2018. The Act keeps Singapore safe and secure by effectively suppressing serious criminal activities. The CLTPA has been used to cripple gangs operating in Singapore and drug trafficking syndicates; against persons involved in loansharking activities; and to detain members of syndicates. In 2017, the CLTPA was used against two armed and violent gangs. In both cases, victims were unwilling or unable to identify their attackers, and while gang members were prepared to give evidence, they would not do so in court, for fear of reprisal. Here are three things you should know about the Act:

1. Amendments to the Act set out in a Schedule, the activities for which the CLTPA can be used. This ensures clarity on which types of activities come be a subject of a Detention Order. In the past: The Minister could order a Detention if he was satisfied that it was necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order within Singapore to do so. Now: the Minister can only order the detention if:

  1. he is satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of public safety, peace and good order within Singapore; and

  2. the activity is listed in the Schedule that has been added.

2. Amendments to the Act also introduced what has been called a “finality” clause, i.e. the position that the Minister’s decision on the facts are final. However, the power of the Courts to judicially review the Minister’s decision continues. The Courts retain the power to review the Minister’s decisions under the CLTPA based on the classic judicial review principles of illegality, irrationality and procedural irregularity.

3. Safeguards: Among the safeguards for the CLTPA are: Proposals by the Police or Central Narcotics Bureauto detain a person under the Act or to place him under Police supervision will be looked at carefully, by both senior officials in the Ministry of Home Affairs as well as the Attorney-General’s Chambers. The Minister only issues a Detention Order (DO) or a Police Supervision Order (PSO) after this process, and upon considering the opinions of senior officials. Also, the Minister must get the consent of the Public Prosecutor before making a DO or PSO.

Read the Second Reading Speech and Wrap-up Speech on the CLTPA by Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.

  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 08 February 2018
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