The Jakarta Post
The Law and Human Rights Ministry is not exaggerating the dangerous level of overcrowding in prisons. The riot that led to a fire that killed five prisoners at Malabero state detention center in Bengkulu last Friday may occur elsewhere if the issue of overcrowding is not immediately addressed.
Ministry data has revealed that the nation's 477 penitentiaries accommodate 183,000 inmates, about 50 percent above maximum capacity. The number of inmates serving sentences in Malabero prison itself is triple its 250-person capacity, with 48 square-meter cells being shared by 30 people.
Only seven out of 35 provinces do not have to deal with overcrowded prisons, but sooner or later they will, as the root causes of the problem remain unsolved.
Many have blamed the protracted problem of prison overcrowding on the propensity of the Indonesian legal system to adopt retributive rather than restorative justice.
Despite the 2012 Supreme Court regulation that made minor criminal acts punishable by imprisonment, both the police and Attorney General's Office (AGO) tend to pursue small-fry cases in the name of law enforcement. The case of an old widow who was tried for allegedly stealing firewood from a state forest company or that of a grandma who was accused of stealing two cocoa beans exemplify this trend.
Such an approach has been widely criticized because of the vulnerability of the country's criminal justice system not only to bribery but also misuse as a tool of repression.
This retributive approach to justice is also behind the drastic rise in the number of drug convicts put in prison without separating drug users from traffickers. The latest statement from the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) head Budi Waseso, who insists on arresting drug users, shows how unlikely significant and systematic change is when it comes to the fight against drugs in the country.
With drug convicts now accounting for 35 percent of the inmate population, it seems inevitable that overcrowding will worsen and more conflicts will take place as a result.
The government's plan to build more prisons, including special facilities for drug convicts, will not be of great help.
Besides, it will be years before such facilities are operational, while the number of inmates in Indonesia's prisons continues to boom. As if to add insult to injury, the government, through Government Regulation No. 99/2012, has restricted remission for drug convicts serving sentences of at least five years, which in practice means that drug users do not qualify.
It is time for the government to shift to a restorative justice approach if it really wants the criminal justice system to work effectively. Retributive justice has turned prisons into training grounds for drug users to learn how to run drug businesses, as they are in constant contact with traffickers.
With the lack of prison guards, rehabilitating, rather than imprisoning, drug addicts is a realistic option to resolve overcrowded prisons and support the fight against drugs at the same time.
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