betty July 4, 2022

SINGAPORE – People from minority races are disproportionately represented in Singapore’s prison inmate population as well as crime statistics, and the Government is careful about disclosing the racial composition of such figures as it might further entrench stereotypes.

Making this point in Parliament on Monday (July 4), Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam said that releasing certain data can adversely impact the community and society.

Mr Shanmugam was responding to a question by Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who had asked for the reasons for not publicly disclosing the racial breakdown of the prison inmate population and criminal offenders.

Stereotypes already exist and releasing such data risks further hardening them, Mr Shanmugam said. He added that this will undermine Singapore’s efforts to build harmonious relations among all races here and make it harder for the country to achieve racial harmony.

The Malay and Indian communities have seen improvements in educational attainment and literacy rates over the past decade, said the minister.

He added that the Malay community has made significant progress such as the doubling of Malay university graduates and an increase in the proportion of Malays working as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

Census data released last year showed that the proportion of those aged 25 and above who are university graduates was 10.8 per cent for the Malay community in 2020, nearly double that of 2010’s figure of 5.5 per cent.

It also showed that the share of PMETs among Malays rose from 28 per cent in 2010 to 39 per cent in 2020.

Mr Shanmugam said that the Government has consulted many different groups and community leaders to seek their views on whether such a breakdown should be released. The unanimous view is that such a move will not benefit communities and the society here, he said.

Community leaders felt that it may be too simplistic to simply look at the racial breakdown, as it would detract from the improvements made by respective communities and ignore other contributing factors which could have led to a person committing a crime, the minister said.

“Overall, they agreed that the race-based inmate and crime statistics should continue to be shared in closed-door settings with community leaders and groups, so that we can address the issues as a community,” he added.

“It is the Government’s as well as the community leaders’ considered assessment that race-based inmate and offender statistics should not be released.”

There are, however, exceptions to releasing race-based data, and the minister pointed out that the Government has done so in Singapore’s population census as well as in the statistics on drug and inhalant abuse, through the Central Narcotics Bureau’s annual reports.

In the case of the latter, the breakdown is disclosed to mobilise the communities into action, he said.

“By working with the community, we are then able to come up with interventions that are better suited for different communities.”