SINGAPORE: A new framework to assess how likely offenders are to reform, which then plays into sentencing decisions, was laid out by the Chief Justice in his verdict of a molestation case on Monday (Apr 27).
Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon used this three-limbed framework in his decision to overturn National University of Singapore student Terence Siow Kai Yuan’s sentence of probation into a two-week jail term.
In cases where an offender is above 21, probation can be imposed only if he displays an extremely strong propensity for reform or if there are exceptional circumstances.
Those who successfully complete a probation order will be supervised by a probation officer and be able to carry out daily activities, and will wind up without criminal convictions on their records.
The three steps to discern whether an offender has an extremely strong propensity for reform are: First, the court should consider whether the offender has demonstrated a positive desire to change since the commission of the offences.
Second, the court should consider whether there are conditions in the offender’s life that are conducive for helping him turn over a new leaf.
If the first two steps point towards an offender demonstrating an extremely strong propensity for reform, the court should take the third step: To consider if there are any risk factors that might lead to the offender re-offending.
It should then consider if there are reasons to revisit the finding of the offender having a high capacity for reform.
THE THREE STEPS IN DETAIL
The first step examines the offender’s own resolve to change, looking at any evidence of his remorse and the progress of his rehabilitation from the time of offending and sentencing.
This includes looking at whether the offender has self-awareness and recognises his wrongdoing. It can play out in several ways, including a plea of guilt especially at the earliest opportunity and full and frank disclosure of criminal activities beyond the charged offences.
Whether the offender has taken active steps showing that he is willing to take charge of his own reform is also part of the first step.
If he complies with rehabilitative measures such as counselling programmes or urine tests for drug cases, this will also factor positively in the first step.
Other factors that can be considered under the first step include a lack of reoffending and whether the offences are shown to be out of character.
The second step scrutinises the offender’s environment, testing if the conditions around the offender are conducive in helping him turn over a new leaf.
Non-exhaustive factors that would help determine this step include strong support from the family, having an external support system such as a partner or religious community and external motivations for reform such as the need to provide for one’s family.
Under the second step, enrolment in school is frequently accepted as a protective factor as it is a positive avenue to channel energy, court documents said.
ACADEMIC RESULTS ONLY ONE INDICATOR
However, “the quest for academic qualifications is merely one indicator of rehabilitative capacity”, and “scholastic mediocrity or the fact that the offender is no longer in school should not be reasons by themselves to conclude that the offender is incapable of rehabilitation”, the Chief Justice stressed.
In this vein, an offender’s scholastic excellence would be irrelevant in and of itself, unless a link can be drawn between his good grades and his capacity to be rehabilitated.
If the court is satisfied that the offender passes the first two steps, it will turn to the third step and assess the risk factors present.
Risk factors include an association with negative peers, or the presence of bad habits such as habitual drug use, or in Siow’s case – a persistent consumption of pornography.
Even if adult offenders demonstrate an extremely strong propensity for reform, it does not mean that rehabilitation is automatically the chief concern.
If the offences are serious enough, rehabilitation could be displaced by a persistent need for deterrence and even retribution, said the Chief Justice.
Published at Mon, 27 Apr 2020 08:00:37 +0000