TL;DR – But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Jose Raymond, a politician from the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), shared in a Facebook post the story of how an ex-offender was rejected from his security officer’s license application.
The facts, as far as we know from the Facebook post above, are that the ex-offender was charged with assault in 2016 and already served time in prison. He has four young children that he has to feed and put through school.
After serving his jail sentence, he then passed a course to become security officer. In January 2018, his application for a license to become a security officer was rejected by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) because the SPD found that he is not “fit and proper” because of his previous conviction.
MP Lim Biow Chuan explains and defends SPF policy
Enter MP Lim Biow Chuan. In a couple of Facebook posts, Mr Lim defended the decision by SPF.
He tried to explain and defend SPF’s policy. He said that there are certain offences where some jobs may not be suitable immediately or so soon after the offender’s release.
As an example, he quoted a situation where we would not want a convicted child molester to teach swimming to young children nor would we want a person convicted of dishonesty to be involved in finance or accounting-related work of a company.
Mr Lim then went on to explain why SPF rejected the ex-offender:
“The concern of police would always be – what if the offender re-offends? What if the security officer could not manage his anger again and hurts someone badly? Someone whom they are supposed to protect? Would the public turn on the police and ask why did they allow a past offender with anger management issue get a security license?”
And is perfectly spot on about Singaporeans’ mentality
Mr Lim’s explanation makes perfect sense. The society would rather err on the side of caution. We should assume that a person can never change. If a person had been convicted of dishonesty, we should assume that they would forever be dishonest. If a person is convicted of outrage of modesty, we should assume that the person would forever be a molester. If a person committed assault, we should assume that the person will forever be emotionally unhinged and will never be able to control his temper. So not only should we not let that person be a security officer, we shouldn’t let that person hold any jobs. Because… you know… he might not be able to control his anger and could end up hurting some co-worker or customer badly.
That’s exactly what Mr Lim is saying.
And I think his assessment of society is spot on. As a society, by and large, that’s how Singaporeans think. And that’s why the SPF won’t dare to give ex-offenders second chances. If the SPF or any government agencies do give ex-offenders second chances, and the ex-offenders re-offend, Singaporeans will come down on the government like a tonne of bricks. Better do the
cowardly safe thing and reject those applications by ex-offenders to be security guards, insurance agents, real estate agents, coaches, taxi drivers, whatever.
After all, what can the government agencies do, right? It’s not like they can shape how people think. It’s not like they can be courageous and take the moral high ground. It’s not like they can put in place programmes and support networks to properly rehabilitate these ex-offenders and minimise the chances of them re-offending. After all, even going through all that, we still won’t know if that person will re-offend.
But that doesn’t have to be the case
But that’s the thing.
We can know.
Maybe not exactly and precisely, but we sure can know to a very high degree of certainty. In this day and age of big data, it’s very possible to come up with some statistical model to make very reliable predictions. I’m sure the government already knows how many ex-offenders of different types crimes end up re-offending. With that data, it’s not difficult to then take into account family background, educational level, time since being released from prison and any other factors to come up with a model that could predict very reliably how likely an ex-offender is going to re-offend.
I mean… we are talking about Smart Nation, right?
Can’t we crunch those numbers and then say, a certain ex-offender is only 0.001% likely to re-offend, so let’s we take the chance and allow him take on jobs like being a security officer or a real estate agent? This ex-offender could be someone who only assaulted another person because that other person was harassing his wife, and that ex-offender has already been out of prison for 2 years and hasn’t committed any other crimes, has gone for anger management courses. Maybe, just maybe, for someone like that, we can take a chance?
Of course, we can mitigate that risk further.
Take the security industry for example. There are roles in the security industry now that doesn’t require that officer to interact much with members of the public. These security officers could be working in the central command centres to monitor smart CCTV and dispatch personnel to handle incidents. Or these security officers could be paired with another more senior security officer. There are many ways, if only we are willing to be creative, to redesign jobs to minimise the risk to society of ex-offenders re-offending.
So. Yes. It’s not easy to give people second chances. Some people don’t deserve second chances. But as a Smart Nation, with intelligent application of data science, we can quite reliable predict who deserves a second chance. And then, if we put our heart to it, we should be able to properly rehabilitate and reintegrate those ex-offenders who deserve second chances into our society.
Don’t put ex-offenders into a second prison.