Forum: Help those who want to turn lives around

Student Yin Zi Qin was sentenced to a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service.
Student Yin Zi Qin was sentenced to a short detention order of 12 days and 80 hours of community service.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

I am shocked and saddened by the violence and harm suffered by the former girlfriend of NUS dentistry student Yin Zi Qin, but at the same time, I was surprised by how harshly some have condemned the offender (MHA to review penalty framework in cases similar to that of NUS student, July 22).

I am a social worker who has worked with youth offenders, and I do not think that Yin's sentence is either extraordinarily light or extraordinarily heavy.

The punishment meted out to him is in fact comparable to a prison sentence, and will be traumatic for anyone with no prior conviction or known involvement with criminal activity.

Yin will face restrictions on his freedom and an unforgiving environment in prison which will not be easily borne.

Although he will not have a formal criminal record, this period of detention will have a physical, emotional and psychological impact that should not be underestimated or downplayed.

Many young people who went through similar forms of restriction continued to imprison themselves mentally and emotionally even after they had served their time.

If they lack sufficient family and social support, they often find it difficult to find their place in society again, and end up going back to the criminal networks and activities they wanted to leave behind.

Recently, Singaporeans have made strong calls for a more compassionate and a caring society, which I find heartening.

If we are to truly become a compassionate society, we should look out not just for those who need to be helped and protected, but also for those who need help turning their lives around.

Punish those who cross the line, but if rehabilitation is possible, we should not condemn them for the rest of their lives.

Jeremy Lau

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2020, with the headline 'Help those who want to turn lives around'. Print Edition | Subscribe