This Week In Court

– week of 7th May –

This week in court, we saw first-hand the terror and trauma that being involuntarily detained at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) can inflict on people. One person described it as “hell” and another claimed they were not fed properly there. Over the years, we have heard many other accounts of people who have had traumatic experiences at IMH, whether during remand or other admissions against their will. When people are remanded at IMH, it is usually because they are suspected of struggling with mental health issues. But some seem to prefer even prison to IMH. If IMH is an institution that is meant to provide care, why are so many people terrified of it?

The sobering reality is that the prison system extends far beyond the walls of Changi prison. Whether it is the Drug “Rehabilitation” Centre, IMH, worker dormitories or children’s homes, there are many institutions that coercively detain people, and keep them in dehumanising, prison-like conditions. 

This week, we also saw how rules around sentencing for drug consumption and possession are extremely punitive and damaging to the recovery of people who use drugs. From the time they are first arrested till they are sentenced, which can be years, people’s lives can change dramatically. But under the law, there is no room for taking these lived realities into consideration. Our drug laws do more harm than drugs themselves do to people’s lives.

Case 1

A man appeared via Zoom from IMH, where he had been remanded for the past 2 weeks. The prosecution pushed for him to be remanded for another 2 weeks and succeeded. The man was extremely distressed by this.

“Come on lah judge, 2 weeks have been hell for me, now you want to give me 2 more weeks,” said the man. The man continued to voice his objections, but District Judge Terence Tay had him muted. The man, unaware of this, continued speaking. He was still speaking when the judge ended the call.

Case 2

In a separate case, the prosecution successfully applied for the accused person to be remanded to IMH. The woman began to panic when she heard this. It appeared that she has previously been to IMH, though it is unclear whether it was a voluntary admission or not.

I want to see the judge! I want to see the judge first! I don’t want to go IMH, they don’t give me proper food there! Who is the IO who recommended me to go to IMH ah? I didn’t do anything wrong,” the woman exclaimed. She was clearly distressed, and her eyes became unfocused.

Case 3

A man faced imprisonment and caning for drug-related charges. He had been going to support groups for the past 2 years, as part of his recovery from drug dependence, and had been making good progress, which seemed to impress the judge.

The man’s lawyer pleaded with the court not to send him to prison as this would undo years of hard work the man had done on his rehabilitation. Although the judge seemed sympathetic, under the law, the judge had no choice but to sentence the man to 5 years and 9 months in prison, with 5 strokes of the cane.

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