Fewer youth returning to crime

Fewer youth returning to crime

A smaller proportion of offenders at juvenile homes are returning to their old ways, figures from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) show.

The share of young offenders who commit another crime within three years of leaving these homes has dropped to 31.1 per cent for those released in 2009, the latest year for which data is available. This was 38.8 per cent in 2006 and 48.1 per cent in 2003.

Last year, there were 1,323 juvenile offenders, or those who commit a crime between age seven and 16. The higher-risk cases are usually sent to the two juvenile homes here - the Singapore Boys' Home and Singapore Girls' Home, both run by MSF. The ministry and youth workers say the drop in the recidivism rate was likely due to more being done to help these young people, as well as better financial aid.

An MSF spokesman said the juvenile homes have been making more effort to prepare residents for a return to the community. "Particularly at the point of discharge, the juvenile homes would work with schools to have the youth return to continue their studies, or to have them be engaged in some vocational training or work," he said.

Mr Ken How, a youth guidance officer with the Boys' Home, said a reason for the drop could be an improvement in the programmes residents have to go through before joining the homes. These are community-based and teach life skills, among other things.

"The staff (in the juvenile homes) have also had more training, such as in communication skills with youth," he said.

Mr Trevor Xie, executive director of Student Advisory Centre, which caters to financially needy and delinquent youth, cited other reasons such as improved standards of living.

"Life has become more comfortable, so the cost of reoffending and going back to the home is higher," he said. With more financial aid from the Government and welfare groups, young people from low-income families also have less reason to commit petty crimes for money.

While the latest recidivism rate for juvenile offenders at homes has dropped to 31.1 per cent, this is slightly higher than the average rate of 30 per cent for offenders who entered the Singapore Boys' Home from 1997 to 2001, as The Straits Times reported in 2006.

A former Boys' Home resident, "Max", 17, said life after being released from the home last July was not easy at first.

He had been arrested in 2011 for rioting and helping loan sharks to "supervise" people who splash paint on debtors' doors. He breached his probation and was sent to the home in 2012.

"Inside the Boys' Home, there are daily routines and everything is planned for you," he said.

"But when you come out, you can feel quite lost, because you don't know what to do when you wake up."

Now doing a diploma in human resources, he said: "The therapeutic programmes taught me a lot... programmes that cannot be learnt outside." He learnt things such as setting goals and identifying and dealing with negative thoughts.

This article was published on April 21 in The Straits Times.

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