Releasing race-based crime data might ‘deepen racial stereotypes’: Shanmugam

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The government is against the public release of race-based data on prison inmates and crime statistics as doing so might “deepen racial stereotypes”, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam speaking in Parliament on 4 July 2022. (SCREENSHOT: Ministry of Communications and Information/YouTube)

SINGAPORE — The government is against the public release of race-based data on prison inmates and crime statistics as doing so might “deepen racial stereotypes”, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (4 July).

Responding to a parliamentary question on the issue by East Coast GRC Member of Parliament Jessica Tan, Shanmugam said that various community organisations and leaders also hold the same position on the withholding of such data.

“I say deepen, specifically because it's not as if these stereotypes don't exist – they exist. And our concern is releasing the data would deepen those stereotypes,” said Shanmugam, who also told the House that minorities are disproportionately represented in the prison inmate population and crime statistics.

If the government were to release such race-based data regularly, apart from the risk of “hardening” stereotypes, there are concerns that efforts in building harmonious relations amongst all the races would be undermined, according to Shanmugam.

The government releases some race-based statistics such as key population indicators broken down by ethnicity, like resident population, marriage and fertility, education, home ownership and religion. Statistics on the Malay community, like the number of Malay graduates from Institutes of Higher Learning, the number of Malay professionals, managers, executives and technicians, or PMETs, and the recidivism rate of the Malay inmate population are also released, Shanmugam said.

The Central Narcotics Bureau also releases race-based statistics on drug and inhalant abuse through its annual reports.

Such CNB statistics are released to mobilise the communities into action and work with the authorities to come up with interventions that are better suited for different communities, Shanmugam said.

While such data could lead to stereotyping, Shanmugam added, “Our assessment is that in these cases, the upside of spurring the communities to take action outweighs the negative of potentially deepening the stereotypes.”

The minister cited the example of positive outcomes of collaboration between the communities and the authorities such as the Dadah Intu Haram (drugs are haram) campaign and the Malay Muslim Organisations Rehabilitation Network, whereby the judgment was to not release race-based data in some instances.

Community leaders have also informed the government via engagement sessions that the public release of such data will not benefit Singapore’s communities and society, said Shanmugam.

“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.”

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