Global Delinquency Control Practices: US vs. Singapore

In order to generate new ideas that might be useful within our district for controlling delinquents and delinquent acts, we can look to other countries and their methods of punitive and/or rehabilitative practices with juveniles along with their juvenile crime rate.  Although it goes without saying that a concept as complicated as juvenile delinquency carries many independent factors other than punitive and rehabilitative practices that can influence it (such as parental care, income and age), delinquency control is unarguably one of the major influences on juvenile delinquency itself.  Therefore, it is essential in our goal of assisting our misguided youth in reform, to analyze other cultures and their success and/or failures with their method of delinquency control.  It would not be our objective to completely mimic the judicial practices of a country with zero juvenile crime in order to obtain zero juvenile crime locally; however, it would be ignorant to assume that there was not at least some information that could be helpful in formulating new ideas that might be fashioned after another cultures ideas but that fit within American context and beliefs.

Singapore is one of the three remaining true city-states in the world (Monaco and the Vatican City being the other two). It is the smallest nation in Southeast Asia.  It has been an independent republic and a member of the United Nations since 1965.  It is one of the six wealthiest countries in the world and its population is approximately 4.59 million with ethnic Chinese forming the majority of its population (Singapore, 2008).  The city-state has deep Confucian values that emphasize loyalty to the state and capitalist self-discipline (Heffner, 2001).

Singapore has a much lower crime rate than most developed countries.  In 1994, there were only 46 cases of violent crime per 100,000 people, less than 10% of the rate in the United States.  Singapore also has a lower rate in property crime, 874 per 100,000 in 1994, which internationally is better only in one country, Hong Kong.  Singapore’s crime rate has been going down every year since 1988; however, the rate of juvenile delinquency has increased 50% in the past decade.  At first glance, this appears discouraging but violent crimes accounted for only 15 percent of all crimes committed, and shoplifting is the majority of juvenile crimes committed.  Also, compared internationally, the juvenile crime rate, even with the 50% increase is still comparatively low.  To paint the picture, the juvenile delinquency rate in Singapore was 538 per 100,000 juveniles between 1986 and 1996.  It was 5,460 per 100,000 in the United States (Ai-Lien, 1997).

So how does Singapore manage such an incredibly low crime rate in general and juvenile crime rate in particular?  Arguably, there are numerous factors involved but many believe that their swift and harsh justice is part of the answer.  They have also initiated many novel ideas to control juvenile delinquency and gangs in school, a very pro-active initiative as they appear to be combating a potential problem before it has become significant.

One of the more intriguing initiatives is dubbed “The Honorary VSC Scheme” and it is an ingenious approach to delinquency control partnerships between law enforcement and schools.  Teachers volunteer and are then selected to participate in the program.  As of January 1999, 58 teachers had been appointed Honorary VSC Officers.  Essentially, the program trains volunteer teachers in delinquency control measures in relation to law enforcement strategies and methods, and validates their learning with an honorary police officer designation.  These teachers become bona fide legal police officers, to discipline and/or arrest children as necessary in the school and to provide positive role-model influences to the children.  A survey of 850 Singapore students revealed that 88% of students feel the school is safer since their school appointed Honorary VSC Officers (teachers).  92% of students said that they felt they could turn to the VSC Officers for advice.  These officers, then, not only deter bad behavior with their police powers to arrest any child who breaks the law on school grounds, but also foster closer relationships with students who find a deeper respect for the teacher who has become a police officer (SPEECH BY ASSOC PROF HO PENG KEE, MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW & HOME AFFAIRS, 1999).

Our schools locally have recognized the value of law enforcement presence on school grounds during school hours and most have responded by utilizing Student Resource Officers and/or permanently assigned regular duty police officers.  Unfortunately, education budget restraints, as well as budgetary employment and staffing issues in law enforcement do not allow adequate coverage in all schools.  Singapore has initiated a gem of an idea that appears to be affecting not only the juvenile crime rate positively, but the positivity and feelings of safety with the juveniles as well.  This is an idea that I feel the school board would be wise to follow-up on.  The initial cost of training Honorary VSC Members would be slight compared to the annual salary of committing a permanently assigned regular duty officer on the premises.  The logic obviously is that the teacher is already on the premises for educational purposes and we “kill two birds with one stone”.

Another pertinent difference between Singapore and US juvenile justice could be a significant factor in Singapore’s lower juvenile crime rate.  Often we see juveniles “getting away with murder” because of their age, but often the most serious offenses are committed with an adult present (someone over the age of 18).  In Singapore, regardless of a juvenile’s age, if a crime is committed with an adult they will be tried in adult court rather than juvenile court (Online Legal Services, 2006).  This fact may discourage youth from engaging in antisocial activities with more mature individuals capable of encouraging more serious offenses which in turn would lead to less juvenile crime.  This, of course, is a legal matter and one that the school board could not readily implement alone.  However, I encourage the schools to petition local lawmakers as to these facts and educate parents on these types of issues to gain public support for possible future legislation along these lines.

Lastly, I would address the level of leniency that America affords its juveniles.  True, there are numerous factors that affect a juvenile’s decision to commit crimes and the level of culpability for a juvenile is arguably much lower than a mature adult.  However, there are many varying degrees between the two extremes of the liberal, practically non-existent, punishment methods (complete focus on rehabilitation) and harsh unforgiving capitalist punishment.  Research indicates that punishment deters crime (Levitt, 1999).  In every possible example of harsh punishment in other countries, the crime rate is drastically lower than that of the US.  Do we need to compromise our more civil American view of rehabilitation and forgiveness to obtain crime rates similar to those in Singapore?  I do not believe so.  However, the consequences of living on the outer edges of the liberal extreme, is manifesting itself in the form of unacceptable rates of juvenile crime in this country.  Not only is the prevalence and incidence of juvenile crime increasing, but its level of violence is increasing as well.  The Singapore culture is very different from our own, however, and I do not suggest we even remotely come close to the level of capital punishment that Singapore inflicts on its population.  I believe though we could learn something about the level of deterrence evident in stricter punishment, and use that knowledge to affect a difference.  Children need structure and guidance, and a well-defined set of consequences to their actions that inflict a punitive element sufficient to deter delinquent actions.  Again, this is something we cannot control directly within educational confines as it encompasses legal issues where legislature would have to be enacted to define more effective punishments for juveniles; however, we can voice an educated opinion, educate the public, and on a smaller measure, instantiate our own well-defined punishments for antisocial behavior within the school grounds.

 

Works Cited

Ai-Lien, C. (1997, November 28). Violent crime quite low in S’pore . Retrieved September 12, 2008, from Straits Times: http://www.singapore-window.org/112802st.htm

Heffner, R. (2001). The Politics of Multiculturalism . Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Levitt, S. (1999, Jan/Feb). Punishment Deters Crime. Executive Alert , p. 1.

Online Legal Services. (2006, December 13). Retrieved September 12, 2008, from W.M. Low and Partners: The National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation

Singapore. (2008, September 10). Retrieved September 12, 2008, from Wikipidia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore

SPEECH BY ASSOC PROF HO PENG KEE, MINISTER OF STATE FOR LAW & HOME AFFAIRS. (1999, January 26). Retrieved September 12, 2008, from The National Committee on Youth Guidance and Rehabilitation : http://www.nygr.org.sg/Speeches/Hopengkee_26jan1999_seniorpolice.pdf

 

 

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