19 October 2005

Low IQ Criminals

Some time ago, I wrote about the plight of low IQ criminals and mentally ill criminals in Singapore. I pointed out that Singapore's criminal laws relating to defences of insanity etc are very old (essentially unchanged for more than one century) and do not reflect the world's modern understanding of psychiatry and psychology. Therefore many mentally-ill and low-IQ people get convicted in Singapore, when there are strong arguments that they should not be.

Here is my old post. It highlights the case of one Iskandar Muhamad Nordin, a repeat molester with a low IQ of 58. He is educationally subnormal with mild intellectual disability. He also suffers from conduct disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and had been on daily medication.

Today's Straits Times tells us that MP Sin Boon Ann made a valiant attempt to speak up in Parliament for such people. Unfortunately, but probably not very surprisingly, his arguments seem to have been decisively rejected by DPM and Law Minister Jayakumar. Anyway, here is today's ST article about mentally-ill criminals:
Oct 19, 2005
Should the law go easier on low IQ offenders?
Mental capacity no excuse if he knows it's wrong, says minister

By Laurel Teo
NO OFFENDER, whether of normal or low intelligence, can be excused entirely from his actions so long as he understands that what he did was wrong.

In making this point yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Law Minister S. Jayakumar also dismissed the idea of changing the law to mete out sentences based on IQ or intelligence levels.

What constitutes an appropriate sentence depends on the facts of each case, he said, and is a decision best left to the judge.

He was responding to Mr Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC), who asked whether the Government would consider reviewing its criminal laws to differentiate between sentences for convicted people who are of normal intelligence and those with low intelligence.

But Professor Jayakumar said such a proposal would be 'neither desirable nor practical'.

The issue of whether the law should treat people with low IQ differently arose in August, when convicted molester Iskandar Muhamad Nordin appealed, without a lawyer, to be spared the cane.He was given a stiffer sentence instead.

What sparked public debate was that the 18-year-old had an IQ of 58, compared to the 100 that a person with average intelligence would have.

While no direct reference was made in Parliament to that case, Prof Jayakumar gave this assurance: 'No one will be criminally culpable for his actions if his mental capacity is so limited that he did not understand the nature of the act, or what he was doing was wrong.'
We do not know, of course, how greatly the ST has, for reasons of limited space, simplified Sin Boon Ann's arguments. If however, Sin Boon Ann built his central arguments around IQ only, I would be very disappointed. For the issue is not merely about IQ. If you click on the link I had earlier supplied about conduct disorder, you see that there are also mental illnesses which make their victims prone to criminal behaviour (conduct disorder is just one example). Even if you are too lazy to click on the link, I'll just supply you with one brief quote from that website (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry):
"Conduct disorder" refers to a group of behavioral and emotional problems in youngsters. Children and adolescents with this disorder have great difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable way. They are often viewed by other children, adults and social agencies as "bad" or delinquent, rather than mentally ill. Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.
In the world of psychiatry, conduct disorder is clearly recognised as a form of mental illness. With proper psychiatric treatment and medication, the condition can be cured, alleviated or kept under control. In prison, however, victims are extremely unlikely to receive the kind of professional care they need in order to fight off such a mental illness.

Unhappily, Law Minister Jayakumar does not seem to know this. Also unhappily, there is nothing in the ST article to show that Sin Boon Ann knows about this either.

What else did Jayakumar say in Parliament:
He explained the process to determine this. First, accused persons of low intelligence are given psychological assessments during investigations, before they are charged and before they go on trial.

When investigations are completed, the public prosecutor will carefully consider the relevant facts, including mental capacities, before proceeding.

'Those who are charged with an offence are those who knew the nature of their actions and who could appreciate that it was wrong to do what they did,' he said.
Some subtle points are obviously getting lost on Jayakumar. It is true that section 84 of the Penal Code says:
"84. Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law."
But this merely means that if the prosecutor learns from medical reports that the accused person is so mentally ill that he does not know what he is doing, or does not know that what he is doing is wrong, the prosecutor will not proceed in court. (That's because the prosecutor has no case).

However, we know that there are many forms of mental illnesses where the accused person knows what he is doing, and knows that what he does is wrong. However, due to his mental illness, he is nevertheless unable to stop himself from doing the act. To give you a common example, some mentally-ill people steal even though they know it is wrong, and they steal things which are completely useless for themselves. For example, the person may steal tennis balls even though she does not play tennis and does not intend to learn; or she may steal men's shaving foam even though she has no use at all for it.

These people are mentally ill. Mental illness drives them to the crimes they commit. They can be cured if they receive proper psychiatric treatment. They grow worse if you deprive them of such treatment, and instead throw them into prison for months or years.

Jayakumar does not understand this. How sad.

Hey, you. The ST journalist. Yes, YOU. I know you're reading this. Do something good for the sake of your own karma. Write an article about these issues and publicise them to the world.


Beach-yi said...

I will laugh at the day the ST ever will write proper artciles...karma, they do better to just give 10% of their salaries back to the white elephant building in Bedok.

singaporean said...

Perhaps Mr Wang dont buy it, but punishment can be purely retributive - purely to make the aggrieved parties feel good seeing some pain inflicted back. Like Took Leng How, for example. Nobody expect Took to become a better man after the punishment, right?

And perhaps Mr Wang especially dont buy this: Singapore's low crime rate has a lot to do with the fact that anybody with a high likelihood to commit crime is already behind bars. Singapore supposedly has the highest incarceration rate after Russia and USA. And it works. The prime example is New York: after Giugliani became mayor, crime rate fell drastically because most would be criminals are kept behind bars.

It is cold hearted efficiency, with little regard to the welfare of, or even fairness to, the individual for the "good" of the society.

Recruit Ong said...

"Hey, you. The ST journalist. Yes, YOU. I know you're reading this. Do something good for the sake of your own karma. Write an article about these issues and publicise them to the world."

ST reporters have neither the guts, decency or integrity to do what is right. Their paychecks rule over their conscience otherwise they would have left ST long ago.

MDFK said...

Hmmmm ... I wonder , will Mr Wang start a Podcast ? Ha !

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