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Jakarta Post

COVID-19: Advocacy groups call for law enforcement to refrain from putting people in jail

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, March 30, 2020   /   04:55 pm
COVID-19: Advocacy groups call for law enforcement to refrain from putting people in jail This picture taken on March 17 shows an inmate speaking to his family via video call at a prison in Blitar, East Java, after visits were stopped for two weeks amid concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. (AFP/STR)

A coalition of legal watchdogs has urged law enforcement to temporarily refrain from putting more people in penitentiaries to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Law enforcement could instead use a bail system for light offenses and criminal acts without victims or violence, according to the Justice Monitoring Coalition, which comprises 16 legal advocacy groups.

“It is essentially a suspension,” Erasmus Napitupulu, executive director of the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR), which is grouped under the coalition, told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

"If someone is subject to arrest, his family can pay a sum of money as a guarantee that he will not run away."

The request came in light of the growing number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia. Both government and advocacy groups have highlighted the need for preventive measures against the fast-spreading respiratory illness in penitentiary facilities.

As of Monday afternoon Indonesia has reported 1,414 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 122 fatalities.

Three members of the coalition, namely the ICJR, the Research and Advocacy Institute of Court Independence (LeIP) and Indonesian Judicial Research Society (IJRS) also emphasized in a separate statement that "the overcrowding issue and the spread of COVID-19 make penitentiaries not a safe place" to have people serving their prison terms.

Jakarta, for example, has eight penitentiaries and detention centers that jointly hold 18,531 inmates, far higher than the total capacity of 5,791 prisoners, according to data updated on March 9 from the Law and Human Rights Ministry's Correctional Facilities Directorate General. That means an overcrowding rate of 320 percent.

With 675 COVID-19 patients as of Sunday, the capital city has been dubbed the national epicenter of the outbreak.

"Under the current conditions, we should avoid imprisoning people as best as we can," the advocacy groups' statement said on Monday. "This is a good step toward using a restorative justice concept."

Read also: Overcrowded and understaffed, prisons scramble to protect inmates from infection

The World Health Organization (WHO) has made a similar recommendation, encouraging countries around the world to reduce the number of inmates to prevent a massive spread of the contagious respiratory illness.

The groups also called on judges to choose rehabilitation for drug convicts over imprisonment, as drug offense was the country's top criminal act brought to trials. "Based on their assessment and a recommendation from doctors and labs, judges can decide to order rehabilitation," the statement reads.

The request was in line with measures taken by the government regarding arrest procedures. Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly sent a letter on March 24 to the Supreme Court chief justice requesting that the judicial body put suspects under house arrest or city arrest instead of imprisoning them at penitentiaries, citing Article 22 of the Criminal Law Procedures Code. 

The minister also sought to temporarily stop people from visiting the penitentiaries, extend terms of imprisonment and conduct trials via online video conference.

The Supreme Court issued on Saturday an instruction to proceed with trials via teleconference. 

Attorney General's Office spokesperson Hari Setiyono told the Post that "trials could proceed via teleconference." (dfr)