Mr Leon Perera asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the Government has any policy prohibiting ex-offenders from entering or being employed at key installations such as Jurong Island and Changi Airport; (b) if so, what categories of offences are covered by this policy; (c) what conditions need to be met before the prohibition lapses; and (d) if not, how many ex-offenders have been employed at these key installations over the past five years.
The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr K Shanmugam): Mr Speaker, Sir, I thank the Member for the question. There are several facilities in Singapore that require security protection. The security measures required at these different facilities are assessed by the relevant agencies.
Jurong Island and Changi Airport are among the facilities that are considered to be high risk. Anyone who wishes to have access to the restricted areas in these facilities will have to be screened by the Police. We have seen in Singapore and overseas, incidents where insiders used or attempted to use their access for wrong purposes, sometimes with serious consequences.
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. A person with antecedents of concern may also be required to remain offence-free for sometime, before he or she is allowed access into such sensitive facilities.
The Member may wish to clarify the specific categories of offences and the associated facilities that he thinks should be exempted from such screening, if that is the purport of his question. 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 they are not able to find jobs in specific security sensitive places?
Our approach is to help ex-offenders find decent jobs. Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) works closely with employers and industry partners, so that an ex-offender can find jobs across a wide range of sectors, and not just at key installations.
As at end of February 2022, about 5,800 employers are registered with YRSG to offer employment to ex-offenders, with over 2,700 job listings. There are many job vacancies. As any employer will tell Members here, the key issue in Singapore is actually a lack of manpower.
YRSG provides employment assistance in three ways: placement services, career retention support and engagements with industry stakeholders.
On placement services, placement exercises are held in prison to match inmates with suitable employers. The inmate’s interests, skill level and incarceration history are considered, to best match them to a job. In 2021, YRSG provided employment assistance to over 2,900 inmates. Of these, over 2,700, or 94% of them, secured jobs successfully.
But even after finding a job, some may face challenges transiting from prison to the work environment. YRSG assigns a Career Coach to each ex-offender at work for up to 12 months after their release. And that is Career Retention Support. The Career Coaches engage ex-offenders regularly to set behavioural goals and provide encouragement and work closely with their employers to resolve work-related issues.
So, I hope Members will appreciate that quite a lot is done to help them, because we want them to succeed. Of the ex-offenders released in 2020, Career Retention Support was provided for more than 1,700 persons. As at December 2021, 87% had stayed on the job for three months and 70% for six months. And I think, if you compare it across the world, our approach compares with the best around.
Third, YRSG actively engages industry and employers on good career opportunities available. Earlier this year, I mentioned the TAP and Grow Initiative to this House. Under the TAP and Grow initiative, training academies in prison have been set up in partnership with the Media, Precision Engineering and Logistics sectors. 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. This year, YRSG aims to expand the initiative into the Food Services sector.
So, 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. 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 by YRSG, which I am sure all Members are aware of.
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, albeit non-violent – to use his language – to be security officers at condominiums? 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.
I also suggested to Assoc Prof Jamus Lim that if he suggested some condominiums in suitable places, we can consider trying out his suggestions. Get the residents to agree. The proof of the suggestion and how serious it is, is in getting it done on the ground. Since then, I have not heard from Assoc Prof Jamus Lim. Likewise, if Mr Perera thinks it is useful, he can suggest some condominiums to try out these ideas. Then maybe, we can take these suggestions seriously and not dismiss them as political soundbites.
So, I will repeat my suggestion here: if Mr Perera or Mr Lim believe that ex-offenders – be they child molesters or have convictions for housebreaking – should be allowed to be, say, security officers, without their conviction record being available to employers or that they should be allowed access to highly security sensitive locations; first, maybe we can try out some private installations which they can suggest, and I am prepared to consider this favourably.
If they say, well, it depends on the offence, then in principle they agree with the approach taken by the Government and that is what we do now, because we adopt a risk matrix approach.
Mr Speaker: Mr Leon Perera.
Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied): I thank the Minister for his answer. Just to respond to the Minister’s point, the intent of my question was to understand if there was a blanket prohibition for ex-offenders entering to these facilities as, say, delivery drivers or to be employed in these facilities. By looking at this question, my view would be that a nuanced approach and a 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. I think the Minister did confirm that that is the case – that a nuanced approach is taken. And I appreciate the other efforts across the whole landscape that YRSG has been undertaking to help ex-offenders to re-integrate and find alternative employment.
My particular question was just in relation to those two facilities that are, of course, high-risk, we do recognise that, and with a view to ascertain, that there is no blanket prohibition. I think the Minister did confirm that is the case. So, that is my response.
Mr Speaker: Assoc Prof Jamus Lim.
Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim (Sengkang): Thank you, Speaker. I feel that it is useful for me to clarify, that the specific Parliamentary Question that I had posed last year, mentioned specifically that it was with regard to non-violent offenders of which in a number of categorisations, including the UN, excludes sexual crimes and misdemeanours.
So, I think it is a bit of a mischaracterisation to argue that it is about allowing paedophiles back into the system.
Mr Speaker: Minister.
Mr K Shanmugam: Fraud and cheating is also non-violent. 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?
So, let us be clear about this. Government is very focused in trying to assist, but we are also very clear-eyed about trying to make sure that the vulnerable are protected.
Ministry of Home Affairs
5 April 2022