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Teen drug offender's suicide highlights need to get across message that S'pore's system is 'designed to give 2nd chances’: Faishal

SINGAPORE — There was an eight-month gap between the arrest of a teenager accused of drug trafficking and his fall to death, which raises questions about what had happened in between, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said.

Teen drug offender's suicide highlights need to get across message that S'pore's system is 'designed to give 2nd chances’: Faishal

The Appropriate Adult Scheme is available for suspects below 16 years old and for mentally vulnerable persons, where an independent and trained adult may accompany him during an interview with law enforcement officers.

  • Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim was responding to questions from Members of Parliament about the case of Justin Lee
  • The questions related to law enforcement agencies’ protocols when dealing with young suspects with special needs
  • Assoc Prof Faishal noted there was an eight-month gap between Justin’s arrest and his death
  • He said the Singapore system is designed to give offenders a second chance and protocols are regularly reviewed

 

SINGAPORE — There was an eight-month gap between the arrest of a teenager accused of drug trafficking and his fall to death, which raises questions about what had happened in between, Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim said.

The Minister of State for Home Affairs added that the case highlights the need to get across the point to young Singaporeans that the system is designed to grant second chances to offenders and help them rehabilitate.

Assoc Prof Faishal was on Tuesday (Nov 2) responding to questions from five Members of Parliament (MPs) on the case of Justin Lee, a 17-year-old who was arrested on Feb 3 and died on Sept 16.

Justin's mother wrote a letter recently to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam about how her son was arrested by officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) and later committed suicide. She said that the “abrasive” interrogation he underwent and the stress of the case caused him to have post-traumatic stress disorder and ultimately led to his death.

The letter went viral and prompted CNB to launch an internal probe in its handling of the case.

In laying out the timeline of what happened, Assoc Prof Faishal noted that Justin was arrested on Feb 3 and charged on June 24. He then fell to his death on Sept 16, a week before his case was slated to be heard in court.

“What happened in those eight months — he had been charged and the case was fixed for hearing. What else happened? I think it is difficult to say. Is it the fact that the case was coming on, in seven days’ time?” Assoc Prof Faishal asked. 

“The young man could have had a far better future… You have done wrong, but that does not have to be the final word. Our system is designed to give second chances, to help you rehabilitate. And many have succeeded. We have to get that point across.”

In response to questions by the MPs relating to law enforcement agencies’ protocols when dealing with young suspects with special needs,  Assoc Prof Faishal said that there are regular reviews to ensure that these are up to date.

“If it is made known to the officers that the subject has medical or mental health conditions and would require special attention, prior to bringing the person in to assist in the investigation, CNB officers will contact the parents or school first, if operationally feasible,” he said.

“Under these circumstances, they will activate an ‘appropriate adult’ to be present during the interview.”

He added that CNB officers will use their discretion on whether the subject is capable of being interviewed.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme is available for suspects below 16 years old and for mentally vulnerable persons, where an independent and trained adult may accompany him during the interview. 

In response to this point, Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) MP Sylvia Lim pointed out that the cut-off age for this scheme is not in line with the amendments made to the Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) passed in Parliament in 2019, which allows legislative protection be extended to those below the age of 18, up from 16 previously. 

She said: “I mean, we can understand that it needs to be phased in and so on, but at the very least, does the ministry not agree that we must commit to moving all these protections whether legal or procedural to the cut-off age of 18, in line with the amendment to the CYPA on the definition of a child?” 

Assoc Prof Faishal reiterated that the cut-off age for the Appropriate Adult Scheme would be reviewed and the outcome will be announced in coming months.

FACILITATING REHABILITATION

Assoc Prof Faishal said that out of 9,485 persons under 18 arrested between 2016 and 2020, only 16 per cent were prosecuted.

He stressed that Justin’s case fell in the “small minority” of 16 per cent because he was openly trafficking drugs.

This was in response to Jurong MP Tan Wu Meng’s request for statistics on persons under the age of 18 arrested who had a history of mental conditions.

Assoc Prof Faishal said: “The general approach when dealing with young suspects is to, where possible, avoid criminalising their conduct, give them a second chance, and help them in their rehabilitation.” 

Therefore, suitable youth offenders would be placed on diversionary programmes that allow them to be accountable for their actions and prevent disruptions in other areas of development, such as education.

“Justin would also have been placed on such processes, after sentencing, if he had been found guilty,” he added.

Related topics

crime drugs rehabilitation Youth suicide CNB Parliament

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