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6 Feb, 2024 15:23

Asian city state approves indefinite detention

Newly enacted legislation allows lawmakers in Singapore to determine whether a criminal is sufficiently rehabilitated to re-enter society
Asian city state approves indefinite detention

The parliament of Singapore passed a law on Monday enabling the Asian state to keep convicted criminals behind bars after their prison terms are completed, if they are still considered a threat to society.

The legislation, which applies to people aged 21 or over, gives the government new powers over those convicted of a range of serious crimes, including homicide and sexual assault.

“An offender who continues to pose a real danger to others should not be released,” Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told the unicameral legislature on Monday.

In his comments, the official cited the example of a man who was jailed for the sexual assault of his six-year-old granddaughter, who subsequently committed a range of other sex crimes upon his release.

“We have to deal with these kinds of menace and protect our society,” Shanmugam told lawmakers.

Under the terms of the new law, offenders convicted of serious crimes would not be automatically released from prison upon completion of their sentences. Instead, their case would be reviewed by the home affairs minister – presently Shanmugam – who would subsequently determine whether the subject was sufficiently rehabilitated to re-enter society.

The minister would be advised by a review panel featuring a range of legal experts and mental health professionals before a determination is made. The offender and their legal team are entitled under the legislation to present a case to support their release from custody.

Should a person be found unfit for release, their case would be reviewed on an annual basis. Fewer than 30 offenders per year are expected to be affected by the law, Reuters said on Monday.

The legislation was approved with substantial bipartisan support in Singapore, although some urged caution that the law could be abused. Sylvia Lim, an opposition member from the Worker’s Party, cautioned on Monday that it would be difficult to fully ascertain who might pose a risk, and warned of “over-detaining someone based on a wrong prediction of dangerousness.” 

Lim said the country’s existing legal system should determine a convict’s release instead of “leaving it to the executive to determine when an offender should be released.” 

A similar law exists in 20 US states and the District of Columbia, where detention can be extended for sex offenders considered to be of a high risk of reoffending.