Oral Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on Reasons for Not Publicly Disclosing the Racial Composition of the Prison Inmate Population and Criminal Offenders

Published: 04 July 2022


Mr Christopher de Souza:
To ask the Minister for Home Affairs what are the reasons for not publicly disclosing the figures on the racial composition of the prison inmate population and criminal offenders.


Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:

1.   Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Member for the question.

2.   In all these matters on public disclosure, or for that matter, any other government action, any decision by the Government has to be guided by what is in the public interest. And that includes assessing what information should be made public.

3.   And really, we don’t take an ideological position on these matters.

4.   So, in certain respects, releasing data can adversely impact the community and society and this particular question relates to one such example. 

5.   The fact is that minorities are disproportionately represented in the prison inmate population and in crime statistics.

6.   The Government has been careful about publicly releasing such data with a racial breakdown, because it might deepen racial stereotypes. 

7.   I say “deepen” specifically, because it is not as if these stereotypes don’t exist. They exist.

8.   And our concern is releasing the data would deepen those stereotypes. If the Government were to release data on racial composition of our prison inmate population and criminal offenders on a regular basis, we really risk hardening the stereotypes.

9.   Over time, the concern is that that will undermine our efforts in building harmonious relations amongst all the races, and will make it harder for us to achieve racial harmony.

10.   This is not to say that the Government does not release any race-based statistics at all.

11.   We have done so in our population census, which includes key indicators broken down by ethnicity, like resident population, marriage and fertility, education, home ownership, and religion.

12.   Through the M3 network, an initiative by Minister Masagos, we have also released specific statistics on the Malay community, like the number of Malay graduates from institutes of higher learning, the number of Malay professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) and the recidivism rate of the Malay inmate population.

13.   The Government also releases race-based statistics on drug and inhalant abuse through CNB’s annual reports.

14.   Why do we for example release those statistics?

15.   We do so to effectively mobilise the communities into action.

16.   By working with the community, we are then able to come up with interventions that are better suited for different communities.

17.   While I deal with this, I should also say that the Malay and Indian communities have seen improvements in terms of educational attainment, literacy rates, over the last decade.

18.   The Malay community has made significant progress: the number of Malay university graduates has doubled and the proportion of Malays working as PMETs has also increased. 

19.   Going back to the point on releasing data on drug and inhalant abuse and whether these could lead to stereotyping? The answer is yes.

20.   But this is where judgment comes in.

21.   Our assessment is that in these cases, the upside of spurring the communities to take action outweighs the negative of potentially deepening the stereotypes.

22.   We consider the implications on each community and proceed based on judgment and assessment.

23.   Let me share some examples. The Dadah Itu Haram campaign and the Malay-Muslim Organisations Rehabilitation Network are examples of how the Government was able to partner the Malay community to join hands with CNB and SPS to combat drug abuse and prevent reoffending. And we have seen positive results with our efforts.

24.   In some other instances, the judgment lies in not releasing the data.

25.   The Government has, on these considerations, taken the approach not to release race-based statistics for the prison inmate population and criminal offenders.

26.   Sir, with your permission, may I display some slides on the screens. Annex 1 sets out the list of stakeholders we engaged. We specifically went and asked various community organisations on their views on releasing such information – race-based stats on criminal offenders and inmate population. So, you will see in Annex 1, it’s a very substantial list.

27.   We consulted many different groups, community leaders, sought their views.

28.   The unanimous view, and I underline the unanimous view, was that it will not benefit our communities and Singapore’s society, and it would encourage stereotypes and harm community relations.

29.   Some of their comments I have asked to be reproduced for Members’ reference. Sir, Annex 2 please. Members can cast their eyes to Annex 2. “It may be too simplistic to share these race-based stats, as the reality is more complex”. Another comment, “It is not good to publicise such statistics, no matter which community is involved”. And you can see the different comments.

30.   Overall, the community leaders were clear. They said we should not simply look at racial breakdown, as it would not take into account other contributing factors which could have led to a person committing a crime.

31.   It would also detract from the improvements made by the respective communities and we take these views quite seriously.

32.   Overall, they agreed that the race-based inmate and crime statistics should continue to be shared in closed-door settings with community leaders and groups, so that we can address the issues as a community.

33.   It is the Government’s as well as the community leaders’ considered assessment that race-based inmate and offender statistics should not be released.

34.   We will continue our current approach of disclosing such information on a selective basis, where doing so would be useful and positive for the community and society.

35.   If any member has a different view, having heard the views of the community leaders, you are welcome to explain why. Thank you, Sir.

Annex 1 - List of Stakeholders Engaged (PDF, 77KB) 
Annex 2 - Selected Comments and Feedback (PDF, 85KB)