Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Guidance Programme among measures to avoid criminalising

SINGAPORE — When the 15-year-old was arrested for stealing from the eatery she worked, Mary (not her real name) found herself sitting in a police station, wondering if her future was over.

Guidance Programme among measures to avoid criminalising

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugan said that in investigating cases involving young accused, the police try to avoid criminalising their conduct where possible, and to give them a second chance through rehabilitation. This includes placing the young offenders in programmes, such as the Guidance Programme, which centre on supervision and counselling.

SINGAPORE — When the 15-year-old was arrested for stealing from the eatery she worked, Mary (not her real name) found herself sitting in a police station, wondering if her future was over.

Two years on, under a multi-agency programme for youth offenders of minor offences, Mary, now 17, has set her sights on securing a place in a polytechnic. After completing the six-month Guidance Programme (GP), she was given a stern warning, instead of being prosecuted in court.

The GP was mentioned by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam in his ministerial statement on teenager Benjamin Lee’s case in Parliament on Tuesday.

Mr Shanmugan said that in investigating cases involving young accused, the police try to avoid criminalising their conduct where possible, and to give them a second chance through rehabilitation. This includes placing the young offenders in programmes, such as the GP, which centre on supervision and counselling.

Of her arrest, Mary said: “That was the lowest point as my parents lost all hope in me.”

Prior to her arrest, Mary and her parents were already barely on speaking terms, and she often fought with them. Her parents’ trust in her further eroded when she started hanging out with friends her family disapproved of.

When she was put under the GP after her arrest, Mary said she had to observe strict curfews. However, mentoring by her social worker and her involvement in group support sessions gave her the “motivation to change”.

Mary recalled how, in one of the last sessions of the programme, a police officer asked the youths to share their experiences.

“I felt really bad about what I did, but when I realised that other people in the group had the same kind of problems as me ... I felt relieved ... It showed me that I could overcome my mistakes,” she said.

Like Mary, rehabilitation programmes such as the GP provide many youth offenders with a chance to avoid prosecution, and start afresh.

The GP, which was introduced in 1997 to address juvenile crime, is for young offenders below 19 years old who commit minor offences, such as thefts and property-related offences involving low-value items.

Most of the children who commit such minor offences do not have the real intention to do so — they do it on impulse or because of peer pressure, said Mr Shylock Lim, a social worker at the Students Care Service, one of the agencies appointed to run the programme.

Various other factors, such as difficult family relationships, might also drive youths to seek other avenues, such as gangs, to fill the void in their lives, said Mr Wilson Tan, executive director at Youth Guidance Outreach Services (YGOS), which runs the Streetwise Programme (SWP), which is for youths associating with gangs.

Many of these youths come from single-parent, divorced families; or their parents, bogged down by long working hours, have little time to supervise them.

Mr Tan said: “These young people try to look for belonging elsewhere, and they might get drawn into mixing with the wrong company.”

He added that these youths crave “warm support, empathy and patience”, and social workers spend time teaching them about the importance of good family communication.

“We always suggest to these youths to spend at least once a week eating together with their family,” Mr Tan said.

One former youth offender, who wanted to be known only as James, underwent the SWP after he was arrested for assault when he was 15.

Back then, James would spend his nights “hanging around” in the neighbourhood with his friends and playing truant. His father, a taxi driver, was mostly absent from his life.

A second assault led to James being sent to the Boys’ Home, but the social workers at SWP kept in touch with him throughout his difficult time. They constantly gave him encouragement and stayed up with him all night as he studied.

Having been given a helping hand when he most needed it, James, now 24, wants to do the same for other troubled youths by joining YGOS as a youth worker.

He has this advice for other struggling youths: “I always tell them that every action comes with a consequence and the choice is in their hands.”

As for Mary, she hopes to enter a polytechnic to study applied food sciences and dreams of getting a driving licence by the time she is 21 — goals that she would never have set for herself if not for the constant encouragement of her social worker from the GP.

Mary said: “If I had been charged, I would have lost all hope in myself ... But because someone was looking out for me throughout the process, I felt I was cared for and I could achieve what I wanted to do. I’m thankful for that second chance.”

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa