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Shanmugam cautions against WP MP Jamus Lim's suggestion to remove non-violent ex-offenders' criminal records

SINGAPORE – Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam has cautioned against a suggestion by Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim to remove the criminal records of ex-offenders convicted of non-violent crimes in order to help them find employment.

Such an approach may not be wise, he said in a Facebook post on Thursday (Feb 4) two days after he issued a written reply to a parliamentary question from the Sengkang GRC MP.

Mr Lim had asked if the Government would consider expanding the Yellow Ribbon Project, such that ex-offenders for non-violent crimes would be eligible to have their criminal history removed from public records, contingent on an extended period of good behaviour. They would thus not have to declare these crimes when applying for jobs.

Responding to Mr Shanmugam on Friday (Feb 5), Mr Lim said the purpose of his question was not to propose a comprehensive policy, but to open up a conversation about crime and rehabilitation.

The minister had noted in his post that there are “many crimes that are serious but may not necessarily involve physical violence”. He cited sexual grooming, outrage of modesty, criminal breach of trust, and theft in dwelling.

Mr Shanmugam also brought up the case of a reading specialist who was charged on Monday with molesting a three-year-old pupil.

“If the MP’s suggestion is taken up, it means that this man can continue to work with children without employers being informed of his record. Would Singaporean parents be comfortable with this?” he said.

It would also mean that an offender convicted of housebreaking could be hired as a security officer in a condominium, without his employers knowing of his record, he added.

“The Government’s approach is to help offenders rehabilitate, find jobs. They have to be given second chances. But this is done in a transparent manner.”

On Friday, Mr Lim said his question was inspired by some residents he had met, who had applied for jobs in the security industry but were ruled out due to a glue-sniffing or petty theft offence committed when they were young.

“There is an obvious risk from allowing a recalcitrant offender to take on jobs where they could pose a renewed danger to society. At the same time, there is also a risk that permanent labels to ex-offenders who have remained crime-free could inadvertently promote recidivism or jeopardise their successful reintegration into society,” he said.

Mr Lim added that his question was also meant to understand the nuances of the current policy stance, and to ask if there is room to expand the scope of an existing program.

“Admittedly, there may need to be certain exceptions; for example, those convicted of sex crimes should not work with children as suggested by the minister, or substance abuse with pharmaceuticals, or drunk driving with transport,” he added.

“I am certain that additional conditions, such as these, would be of value, and should be considered by the ministry.”

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