TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Fire raged at the Class II-A section of the Jambi Correctional Facility on Wednesday last week. What began as a drug inspection round of the prison premises, quickly changed into a riot. Four inmates managed to escape during the resulting chaos and confusion. "I will find out who started it and have him moved to Nusakambangan," fumed Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly. Nusakambangan is the maximum-security prison located on an island off the Central Java coast.
The Jambi riot was not the first to happen under Yasonna’s watch. Last year, four similar incidents took place at the prisons in Banceuy, Bandung, Kerobokan in Bali, Kuala Simpang in Aceh and Malabero in Bengkulu. The one in Bengkulu, which happened on March 25 last year, was the worst. Five inmates died as a result.
Yasonna, 63, regards the over-capacity of prisons to be the main reason why inmates riot. Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in Medan, for example, is five times over the capacity of what it should be. It houses 3,750 inmates, when it should only take in 700. "It's easy to feel angry when you must live in crowded and hot quarters," said the minister. Amid such limitations, Yasonna, who earned a doctorate degree in law from North Carolina University in the US, is currently building new prison blocks. He is also creating a prison-based industry, so the inmates have the opportunity to work and not be idle. Less than 24 hours after the riots in Jambi prison, Tempo reporters Anton Septian, Reza Maulana and Raymundus Rikang met with Yasonna at his office in South Jakarta. He spoke on a range of issues, but one that affected him most was the discrimination towards prison inmates. Excerpts of the interview.
What cause these prison riots?
There is an over-capacity problem. The ideal capacity at Jambi penitentiary is 300, but it houses 1,750 people. Moreover, the inmates get really upset when they see the police, because they were arrested by them and detained for a long time. So, when an unscheduled inspection takes place together with the police, like as what happened before the riots, somehow the inmates react negatively. But I'm quite sure there are people provoking it behind the scenes.
How can the problem be resolved?
By relocating some of the inmates. That's what I have done at the Medan (prison), which has a normal capacity of 700 people but is currently housing 3,750 inmates. In their cells, they live like sardines in a can. In the end, I relocated some of them to Balige, Padang Sidempuan and Tanjung Balai. The Medan prison was also expanded to take in 1,000 more people, but the problem remains.
Do you plan to build new penitentiaries?
We are focusing on building prisons in areas where they have an over-capacity problem, and where the likelihood for crime is high, like Medan and Surabaya. At those two places, we have begun building new (prisons), while the one in Jambi has yet to be completed.
How effective would expanding the prison facilities be?
There would still be problems. The increase in the number of inmates has been rapid. When I became minister in 2014, there were 150,000 inmates. Today, there are 210,000, although at the end of January, there were only 202,000.
What is the reason for this rapid increase?
It's all about narcotics. The police keep arresting drug addicts, the couriers and the dealers. I cannot turn them away when the police bring them to the prisons.
How many drug-related inmates are there?
Today, 50 percent of prison inmates in Indonesia were involved in drug-related cases. In Jambi, it's about 55 percent, while the highest figure of 70 percent is in Medan. This is why I have been pushing to change the paradigm, to enable drug addicts to be rehabilitated, instead of going to prison.
Your position contrasts with that of the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), which believes in punishing addicts.
When the BNN was led by Anang Iskandar, there was a program to rehabilitate 100,000 drug users. President Joko Widodo also agreed to pardon some 15,000 addicts. They were released (from prison) but on condition that they went on rehabilitation. At that time, BNN had a budget to rehabilitate 100,000 people. This policy would have saved Rp100,000 from the food budget and reduce the over-capacity problem. But today, everyone found guilty of drug-related cases are sent to prison because the rehabilitation program was dissolved. Even the law on narcotics says that drug users must be rehabilitated. Many well-known people, like artists addicted to drugs, go through rehabilitation. But other users, like poor youths, go to prison instead. In my view, that's not fair.
Why are you in favor of rehabilitation? Would this reduce the burden on prisons?
We are unlikely to reduce the demand for drugs without a rehabilitation program. In Indonesia, the number of drug users is estimated to be about 5 million people. So, the dealers will always find ways to enter this very lucrative market. If the market continues to grow, however hard we try to fight it, ultimately it would be overwhelming for us, because the controlling factor is the law of demand and supply.
Reportedly, money from the drug business is also going to the authorities in prisons and at border areas.
I never said that. Find out for yourself. Moreover, I will say that there is much injustice inside prisons. It hurts to hear about a poor grandmother who was sent to prison in Makassar because she was duped into being a drug courier. She was unable to get a remission because she had to process documents on being a justice collaborator. Remissions are not free. Yes, many prison inmates are bandits, especially the drug dealers, yet many of them are there because of cases of mistaken arrests. (*)
Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine