This Week In Court

– week of 30th Jan –

This week in court we saw a troubling example of the failure of our prison system when we found out that a 65 year old Malay cleaner who was sentenced to 4 weeks in prison for theft has actually been in and out since he was 19, back in 1977. More than 50% of the prison population is Malay, even though they only make up 15% of the general population. This raises concerns about why poor, ethic minorities end up in prison so often.

We also saw a young man face between 35 to 43 months in prison for having stolen 5 tins of milk powder, grocery vouchers, a bottle of 100plus, and a thermometer. He had no representation and was confused to find out, more than one year since his case first started, that more charges had been added on and he was facing a much longer sentence that he had initially thought.

Case 1:

A 65-year-old cleaner was sentenced, via a court translator, to 4 weeks for theft. The man had first gone to prison in 1977, at the age of 19, for housebreaking and theft and has been in and out of prison since then. He was imprisoned 15 times between the years 1978 and 2015, mostly for drug related offences.

He also had 4 DRC admissions, which means he was incarcerated solely for drug consumption for the purposes of ‘rehabilitation’. Even though the Singapore government says the country’s recidivism rates (rate of prisoners being imprisoned again), at between 20 to 25%, are one of the lowest internationally, this statistic only reflects the 2 year period after a prisoner’s release.

Official statistics show that between 2011 and 2015, up to 43% of released prisoners were incarcerated again within 5 years. Statistics beyond the 5 year period are not publicly available. As of 2020, 80% of the prison population had been imprisoned at least once before.

Case 2:

A young man faces between 35 to 43 weeks in prison for having stolen 5 tins of milk powder, grocery vouchers, a bottle of 100plus, and a thermometer. He attended his mentions hearing via Zoom from remand, and was unrepresented.

After the charges and potential sentence had been read out to him, he said he’d like to request some time to get legal aid. The judge appeared annoyed at this and said since the case has been going on for over a year, he has has had more than enough time to look for lawyer.

The man then explained that he was initially told that he was only facing 14 months in prison and did not see the need for lawyer. Because the prosecutor had slapped on more charges which would lead to a longer sentence than expected, he decided it was necessary to have a lawyer. This court hearing was the first time the new charges and sentence were made known to him.

He seemed confused during the proceedings and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t given all the information before: “I don’t quite understand…because sentence bit too harsh so I need to ask for advice”. The prosecution admitted that they had filed some documents late, so he was granted a 1 month adjournment to find representation. In the meantime, the man was not granted bail.

These cases highlight that vulnerable people acting out of poverty and desperation are punished, often for just trying to survive. How do factors like racism, inequality and a rising cost of living push people into ‘crime’? They are punished first by a society that doesn’t give them the opportunity to lead a life of dignity and meet their needs through legitimate means. They are then punished once again (and often, again and again) by our law enforcement systems.

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