Prison is no Punishment for Corruptors

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  • Sukamiskin Prison in Bandung, West Java, known for keeping many corruptors. TEMPO/Prima Mulia

    Sukamiskin Prison in Bandung, West Java, known for keeping many corruptors. TEMPO/Prima Mulia

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Not all convicted criminals serving sentences are confined to a cell devoid of amenities. At Sukamiskin prison in Bandung, inmates enjoy many facilities and privileges. Former high officials and rich inmates can easily obtain permission to travel outside-and this is almost always for pleasure.

    One example is Anggoro Widjojo, convicted of corruption over the supply of an integrated radio communications system for the Forestry Ministry. He has repeatedly been outside the prison from morning until night. Using the excuse of being ill, he rides in an ambulance to his nearby apartment.

    After a four-month investigation into the conduct of inmates and prison personnel at Sukamiskin, this magazine found Anggoro was not the only convict making frequent trips outside. Former mayor of Palembang, Romi Herton, and ex-mayor of Bogor, Rachmat Yasin, do the same. The two men leave the facilities without any escort-which is clearly a breach of regulations.

    These convicted corruptors even invite dangdut singers to perform inside the prison premises during birthday parties. They are also allowed to redecorate their cells, and make temporary structures in the yard for relaxation or to receive visitors.

    Jails have become vacation homes. No longer are there dirty bathrooms or boring food. Even if these do exist, there are small-time crooks, pickpockets and chicken thieves, who will do the dirty work for money. They don't have the money to bribe officials to enjoy a day out of prison.

    According to regulations, inmates are only allowed to leave jail for medical treatment, social work or to visit seriously ill relatives. But the fact is that permits to leave are sold for contrived reasons. Whatever type of permit is issued, most prisoners end up going to resorts or hotels, or to rented accommodation near the prison. Guards know this, but allow it to continue.

    If they have enough money, inmates can do whatever they want. The shameful conduct of Sukamiskin personnel render corruptors unafraid of jail sentences. Such correctional facilities lose their authority of punishing and rehabilitating criminals who break the law.

    Initially, the government made Sukamiskin a special jail for convicted corruptors to make monitoring easier. But nothing changed. Tempted by money, guards provide inmates with facilities they are not entitled to.

    Artalyta Suyani, alias Ayin, used to live a life of ease in Pondok Bambu Detention Center, Jakarta. She was jailed for bribing prosecutor Urip Tri Gunawan in the Bank Indonesia Liquidity Assistance case. Ayin even had a private office and a maid in jail.

    Before Ayin, Bob Hasan in Nusakambangan and Tommy Suharto in Cipinang enjoyed a comfortable existence behind bars. Officials were usually involved in providing various facilities.

    These blatant and continuing violations show the weakness of the oversight system of jails. Prison guards and wardens, who should enforce the regulations, openly breach them.

    Law No. 12/1995 on Correctional Facilities states that jails are not only for confining prisoners, but are also for rehabilitating criminals. But there will be no deterrent effect if inmates are able to obtain special privileges.

    President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono established a Judicial Mafia Eradication Task Force to, among other things, reform oversight of jails. But after the shock therapy of the raid on Ayin's cell in January 2010, reforms came to a halt.

    Because these violations happen over and over again, the Justice and Human Rights Ministry must persevere and not weaken. Officials proven guilty of transgressions must be fired immediately and/or penalized. The government must recruit new staff who are seriously committed to enforcing the law.

    In addition to ensuring prison guards do their proper duty, the Justice Ministry also needs to reform the management of jails. Structurally, prisons have been run as a technical directorate under a general secretariat, which does not have a structure that extends to correctional facilities. Not surprisingly, many problems are not addressed properly.

    The government and the House of Representatives (DPR) need to rethink about the proposal to impoverish corruptors. Although it is not exactly the same, in 2011 Switzerland passed the Return of Illicit Assets Act (RIAA), which gave the government the power to seize the assets of officials found guilty of corruption from Swiss banks and to return them to the relevant country. For this to happen, the officials must have been found guilty, and the returned funds must be used for social programs.

    We could follow the Swiss example. As long as the funds are proven to be the proceeds of corruption, they can be confiscated. Without their ill-gotten money, corruptors would not be able to buy heaven in jail. (*)

    Read the full story in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine