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Majority of Singapore residents still support death penalty in latest MHA survey: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE: The majority of Singapore residents still support the death penalty, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Thursday (Mar 3), citing preliminary findings from a survey conducted last year.

"Majority of Singapore residents support the use of the death penalty and agree that the death penalty deters serious crime," he said in Parliament during his ministry’s Committee of Supply debate, in response to questions on whether Singaporeans continue to support its use.

“On the question as to whether the mandatory death penalty is appropriate, 81 per cent said it was appropriate for intentional murder, 71 per cent said it was appropriate for firearm offences, 66 per cent said it was appropriate for drug trafficking.

“And more than 80 per cent also believed that the death penalty had deterred the commission of these offences in Singapore.”

While the findings of this survey are still preliminary, Mr Shanmugam said they were given to him with a "reasonable degree of confidence". The survey will also be made public when finalised, he said.

An earlier survey in 2019, also conducted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), showed “very strong” support for the death penalty, Mr Shanmugam said. But younger Singaporeans’ support for capital punishment for drug traffickers was lower than the national average in that survey.

MHA also commissioned a separate study in 2021 on people in regions where most of Singapore’s arrested drug traffickers originated from in recent years. Mr Shanmugam did not say which regions these were.

"We wanted to get a sense of what people in these places knew and thought," he said.

This study found that:

  • 82 per cent of respondents believed that the death penalty makes people not want to commit serious crimes in Singapore;
  • 69 per cent of respondents believed the death penalty is more effective in discouraging people from committing serious crimes, compared to life imprisonment;
  • 83 per cent of respondents believed that the death penalty makes people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore.

“I emphasise this: These are the places from which many of our traffickers have come from,” the minister said.

“You remove the death penalty, that number, 83 per cent, will surely be reduced because there is money to be made.

"It’s a fair assumption to say more people will traffic drugs into Singapore, more drugs will enter into Singapore, there will be more drug abusers in Singapore, and more Singaporean families and individuals will be harmed … It's a stark choice for Singaporeans.”

The minister said he has also given instructions for this study to be made public in a way that would not prejudice Singapore's public and foreign policy interests.

Mr Shanmugam cited a 2018 MHA study that he said found a high level of awareness of the death penalty among convicted drug traffickers, and that it influenced their drug trafficking behaviour.

“One of the traffickers in this study said the following: He knew very clearly that if he were caught for trafficking a small amount, he would just go to jail for trafficking. But if he were caught with a larger amount, he would be at risk of the death penalty,” Mr Shanmugam said.

“And so he trafficked below the threshold amount.”

The minister then reiterated how places that have decriminalised drugs or taken a softer stance on them have fared worse, highlighting figures and videos from US cities like Baltimore and San Francisco that showed the spiralling drug situation there.

Given those accounts, he said some will argue that Singapore should retain its tough drug laws but remove the death penalty.

“My response is this: First of all, I gave you the survey results, removing the death penalty and what impact it will have psychologically.

"Second, we have never said that the death penalty alone is sufficient. It is however a key part of our system and approach to deal with drug trafficking. You need many different things to keep Singapore relatively free of drugs."

These measures, he said, include good intelligence, strong enforcement, stiff punishments, rehabilitation for offenders and deterrence from the death penalty.

“So I'm telling members: We have to think very carefully about this, before removing any part of this framework or going soft,” Mr Shanmugam added.

“Those who advise for removal often compare us with countries that have already lost the drug war. And I'm not sure if they understand the consequences, or choose not to understand them. Because the consequences are plain for everyone to see.”

REHABILITATION OF INMATES

Mr Shanmugam also said that the TAP and Grow initiative, a project by Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) to create a long-term career pathway for inmates and ex-offenders, will be expanded into the food services sector.

Under this initiative, training academies in prison have been set up in partnership with three sectors: Media, precision engineering and logistics. Inmates will be offered jobs by partner employers upon release.

“About 650 inmates will benefit from the TAP and Grow initiative in these three sectors every year,” Mr Shanmugam said.

YRSG has also developed a new Digital Literacy Masterplan for inmates to gain basic digital skills in prison, so that they are better prepared for the job market upon release. An estimated 750 inmates will be trained in basic digital skills each year, Mr Shanmugam said.

He pointed to how the YRSG has partnered the Infocomm Media Development Authority to roll out digital skills training for older residents at the Selarang Halfway House.

“This training helps with digital services, including government services and financial services,” Mr Shanmugam added.

Beyond working with inmates, YRSG has also put in place a Community Action Masterplan to better harness the skills, strengths and aspirations of its volunteers.

This helps map out opportunities for the community to be involved in giving second chances to ex-offenders, Minister of State for Home Affairs Faishal Ibrahim told Parliament on Thursday. 

On the rehabilitation of drug offenders, Associate Professor Faishal said the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will roll out its Community Supervision Skills initiative progressively, with full implementation islandwide by March next year.

Under this pilot initiative launched in 2019, CNB supervision officers will check in on drug supervisees and assess their residual reintegration needs, such as financial, family and employment needs.

"If necessary, supervisees will be referred to the appropriate agencies for follow up," Assoc Prof Faishal said.

Source: CNA/hz(cy/gs)

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