It is a matter of statistical probability that every society will end up with a handful of hardened criminals. We are talking about the most degenerate of individuals who commit the most unspeakable of crimes. The ones who make devious scammers look benign by comparison. They are the serial rapists and child sexual predators, among other hardcore criminals such as those arrested for attempted murder. Professional psychopaths who not only showed little to no remorse over their actions, with some seemingly destined to re-offend upon their release from prison.
There was the man jailed for 20 years in 2022 for sexually assaulting his grandnieces. But what truly shocked the nation was the fact that the same man had already served a 19-year sentence for raping his stepdaughter. Within the same year, another man was found guilty of sexually abusing eight children over 16 years.
The depravity is sickening. But could these tragedies have been prevented? Perhaps so, especially in the case of the former. If only we could have a way to double-check, before letting these heinous monsters go – that is, to release the offender only when he or she is rehabilitated enough and not likely to go out and inflict horror.
Unfortunately, current laws do not allow for that. A sentence imposed by the judge is the final word, with offenders automatically released when their jail term ends. By and large, it is a fair and just system. But the reality is that there are incorrigible criminals within our midst. As such, what happens when these individuals come out, who remain a threat to society at large? This dilemma is exactly what the proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) aim to fix.
Due for a second reading in Parliament next week, the CPC Amendment Bill is generating intense scrutiny, raising doubts whether Singapore is morphing itself into a police state. Far from it, as Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam addressed the concerns about the proposed changes to the CPC during an interview with AsiaOne.
“The amendments…are to protect the public against people who are a serious threat. So, we are proposing a type of sentence called the Sentence for Enhanced Public Protection or SEPP,” said Mr Shanmugam. With this change, individuals sentenced under SEPP will not be released automatically. Instead, experts will assess whether they are a risk to society before their sentence is due to finish. And if they are, they will remain in jail, with their case reviewed once a year, added the Minister.
In addition, there had been some misunderstanding on how the law works. “When a person is first convicted, the court can choose to impose either a normal sentence or SEPP sentence. So, it’s complete discretion with the court,” Mr Shanmugam told the media recently. And if the court decides the offender is a suitable case for SEPP, then he serves a minimum period. At the end of the minimum period, he will be assessed by experts.
“We are talking about psychiatrists, psychologists, a detention review board, to see how much risk you pose to society at that point in time, when you are due to be released,” added Mr Shanmugam.
Lastly, Mr Shanmugam also clarified a misconception. A SEPP sentence does not mean that offenders would end up detained forever, or at least for much longer than they otherwise would. Instead, it is a much more calibrated and fair approach. With the knowledge that offenders will not be released automatically until experts conduct a risk assessment, the judge need not err on the side of caution with a longer sentence upfront. As such, he or she may feel comfortable imposing SEPP with a shorter minimum period – and whether the offender is released at the end of that period is up to how well the offender rehabilitates. “There is an incentive for the prisoner to reform. Because if he works on his rehabilitation, he is likely to be released earlier,” said Minister Shanmugam.
But as with any amendments, there will always be dissenters. A tiny but loud minority of self-proclaimed liberty defenders have since gone a tad hysterical over the thought of an indefinite jail term. Will the SEPP be unfairly meted out? Are we giving the police too much power and setting ourselves up for an Orwellian existence? Do we run the risk of giving up our civil liberties and freedom in the name of law and order? Yet the odd thing is that protecting the liberty and freedom of Singaporeans is precisely what the amendments to the CPC seek to do.
So far, current sentences have not always succeeded at protecting the public from egregious offending. Therefore, as much as dissecting the ethical dilemmas associated with the SEPP can be a bit of fun for some in the legal community, it makes absolutely no sense to release a dangerous offender into the community. That is especially so when one child sexual predator is still one too many. Besides, if there is one country that can be trusted to use the law judiciously, it is Singapore – one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
In a perfect world, there would be no criminals. But until then, amendments to the CPC are the next best thing we have, to guard against incorrigible offenders.
Photo Source: K. Shanmugam via Facebook