Published: 11 May 2015
Dr Janil Puthucheary: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether existing penalties are sufficient deterrents against serious crimes such as vandalism or hurt committed by youths and young persons; (b) if not, whether there are plans to strengthen the current laws; and (c) whether the Ministry is considering alternative mechanisms to discourage such behaviour.
Answer by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs
1. Persons who commit serious crimes such as vandalism, hurt or other offences that affect public well-being, safety and security should be severely punished. This also applies to young offenders. The law provides a range of punishments and rehabilitative options that the courts can impose as appropriate. These include options such as community-based rehabilitation, probation, placement in a juvenile rehabilitation centre, reformative training, fines, caning and imprisonment.
2. The penalties provided in the law for serious offences, including vandalism and hurt, are generally adequate. Vandalism is a serious offence, especially where it defaces public facilities or property, is designed to draw wide public attention to the act of lawlessness, or involves indelible substances making removal difficult or costly. The maximum penalty for vandalism is three years' imprisonment or a fine up to S$2,000. There is a mandatory minimum of 3 strokes of the cane but not more than 8, unless the act was committed with a delible substance. For the offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, the maximum penalty is ten years' imprisonment and a fine or caning. This increases to life imprisonment or up to fifteen years' imprisonment and a fine or caning if grievous hurt is caused by dangerous weapons and means.
3. In deciding on the appropriate sentence, the courts will generally weigh the gravity of the offence committed together with factors such as proportionality, and the individual circumstances of the offender. This includes the offender's age, antecedents, culpability, aggravating and mitigating factors. The courts would also need to consider what is in the public interest. For example it would not be in the public interest to have youth crime take root in society or go out of control. While rehabilitative options are available for young offenders who are suitable, the courts have also meted out more severe punishments if the offence was a serious one, including deterrent sentences to send a strong signal that such criminal behaviour will not be condoned nor taken lightly. In appropriate cases, the Public Prosecutor may appeal against the sentence if it is inadequate or does not reflect the seriousness of the offence committed.
4. In recent years, young offenders have received stiff sentences and caning for committing vandalism and hurt. In 2014, three young men aged between 22 and 26 were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment and 3 strokes of the cane each for vandalising public property with messages supporting the criminal activities of the hacking collective Anonymous. In 2013, three young men aged between 19 and 21 were sentenced to imprisonment terms of between two years six months and three years six months, and received between four and six strokes of the cane, for rioting and slashing a full-time national serviceman in an attack at a shopping complex in Orchard Road. These sentences give the community the assurance that safety and security are being safeguarded.
5. Having said that, young offenders may also be sent for reformative training at Changi Prison Complex. The regime is strict, tough, and has a strong emphasis on discipline. However, some younger offenders can benefit more from community-based rehabilitation such as probation, which can include conditions such as community service, curfew, electronic monitoring and hostel residency.
6. A key factor in reducing youth crime is high certainty of being caught and dealt with firmly. Prompt and effective enforcement by our law enforcement agencies coupled with strict laws are therefore necessary. At the same time, it is also necessary to have crime prevention programmes jointly with schools and community partners to guide our youths and divert them away from criminal activity.
7. MHA will continue to closely monitor the situation and regularly review the need to step up education, enforcement or impose additional legislative measures. MHA will also work with the Attorney General's Chambers to press for deterrent sentences where these are warranted.