Rethinking Singapore’s approach to mental health in law enforcement

1 month ago 63

by M Ravi

A new law in Singapore will give law enforcement agents greater powers to arrest persons with mental health conditions.

This is an example that the Ministry of Home Affairs gives to justify the Law Enforcement and Other Matters Bill:

The Police receive a call for assistance about a person who had threatened to kill his family members, but did not say that he would do it immediately. The person making the threat was traced in Police’s records to have a history of mental disorder. The complaint appears to be credible, the threat of physical harm appears reasonably likely to occur and likely attributable to a mental disorder, even though it does not appear that the person would be carrying out his threats immediately or in a matter of hours.

First, if someone threatens to kill his family members, why should it matter if they have a mental health condition or not? Is the MHA saying that if he didn’t have one, the police would just wait and see if he killed his family?

Second, why is there a need to draw a line between persons with mental health conditions and those without? Does the new law implicitly assume that people with mental health conditions are more dangerous? Studies show that this is not true.

Third, why is conventional arrest and detention used in dealing with persons with serious mental illnesses? A recent post by Sabrina Ooi, who has bipolar disorder, shares how the police in Singapore used to arrest people who’d attempted suicide, send them to jail, and handcuff them whilst in the psychiatric hospital.

The way that we treat people with bipolar disorder is damaging and unhelpful. In some US jurisdictions, when responding to a person with mental health issues, police officers will be accompanied by a social worker.

In Canada, if someone with mental health issues is charged with a crime, he may go to a specialised mental health court. There, instead of conventional punishment, the goal is to create a compassionate solution that incorporates treatment and rehabilitation. Such courts reduce recidivism and are more affordable than simply arre...

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