No blanket ban on ex-offenders entering restricted areas, past offences a 'consideration': Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: A person's past offences are "a consideration" when they are screened for access to restricted areas and facilities in Singapore but the police do not rule out ex-offenders on a "blanket basis", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Tuesday (Apr 5).
He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied), who asked if the Government has any policy prohibiting ex-offenders from entering or being employed at key installations such as Jurong Island and Changi Airport.
In response, Mr Shanmugam said that the security measures at different facilities are assessed by the relevant agencies, noting that Jurong Island and Changi Airport are among the places that are considered to be high risk.
Anyone who wishes to have access to the restricted areas in these facilities will be screened by the police, he added.
"We have seen in Singapore and overseas, incidents where insiders used or attempted to use their access for wrong purposes, sometimes with serious consequences," said Mr Shanmugam.
"Past offences are a consideration when screening persons for such passes. However, the police do not rule out ex-offenders on a blanket basis. The factors relating to the offence are assessed."
He added that a person with "antecedents of concern" may also be required to remain offence-free for some time, before they are allowed access to such "sensitive" facilities.
Mr Shanmugam then asked Mr Perera if he could clarify the specific categories of offences and the associated facilities that he thought should be exempted from such screening.
"I say this because it is not clear what the real concern is. Is the concern that these people are not able to find decent jobs, or that they are not able to find jobs in specific security-sensitive places?" the minister asked.
Mr Perera later explained that the intent of his question was to understand if there was a blanket prohibition for ex-offenders to enter such facilities as delivery drivers for example, or to be employed there.
"My view would be that the nuanced approach and calibrated approach should be taken whereby the gravity of the offence and the length of time that the ex-offender has been offence-free be taken into consideration, rather than a blanket prohibition be imposed," he added.
"And I think the minister did confirm that that is the case, that a nuanced approach is taken."
FINDING DECENT JOBS
The Government's approach is to help ex-offenders find "decent" jobs, said Mr Shanmugam.
This is done through Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG), which works closely with employers and industry partners so that ex-offenders can find jobs across a wide range of sectors, and not just at key installations, he added.
YRSG provides employment assistance in three ways - placement services, career retention support and engagements with industry stakeholders, he noted.
"Both Mr Perera and other members can see a lot of effort has been put into this - into helping ex-offenders find and keep decent jobs," Mr Shanmugam.
"So it is not clear to me why the focus is on employment of ex-offenders at key, security installations specifically without considering the wider landscape and the efforts of YRSG, which I am sure all members are aware of."
Mr Shamugam noted that MP Jamus Lim (WP-Sengkang) had made a "somewhat related set of points" last year.
Then, Associate Professor Lim had asked if the Government would consider expanding the coverage of the Yellow Ribbon Project such that ex-offenders who committed non-violent crimes would be eligible to have their criminal history removed from public records and not report it for employment purposes.
This would be contingent on them having an extended period of good behaviour following successful reintegration into society, he said.
"The member’s colleague, Assoc Prof Jamus Lim, made a somewhat related set of points last year, and I told him, do you want convicted paedophiles working in childcare centres, or those who have been convicted of serious offences, or those who have been convicted of serious offences albeit non-violent, to use his language, to be security officers at condominiums?" said Mr Shamugam on Tuesday.
"Or would it be better that we have a risk matrix and assess suitability for different jobs, and yet help all of them find jobs? We take their livelihoods seriously and we want to help them."
Later, Assoc Prof Lim replied that his parliamentary question last year mentioned non-violent offenders specifically.
He noted that in a number of categorisations, this excludes sexual crime and misdemeanours, and it would be "a bit of a mischaracterisation" to argue that it was about allowing paedophiles back into the system.
"Fraud and cheating are also non-violent," replied Mr Shanmugam. "So, would the member consider those people to be suitable to be security officers? Looking at pornography, child pornography is also non-violent. Would the member agree to such people acting as kindergarten teachers in registered kindergartens?" he added.
"So, let's be clear about this. (The) Government is very focused on trying to assist. But we are also very clear-eyed about trying to make sure that the vulnerable are protected."