Kerobokan Prison in Bali, one of many overcrowded jails in Indonesia. (Antara Photo/Nyoman Budhiana)

Remote Island Jails Could Be Solution to Indonesia's Prison Problem


JUNE 19, 2019

Jakarta. The government's old plan to build new prisons on the country's remote islands resurfaced this week, following a high-profile graft convict's escapade from his prison in Bandung that exposed weaknesses in Indonesia's penitentiary system. 

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto said on Monday that the government was rethinking its plan about building more prisons on remote islands. 

He made the comment after Setya Novanto, a former speaker of the House of Representatives who is serving a 15-year jail sentence for graft, was caught on camera meeting his wife and going shopping while on a temporary medical leave from Bandung's Sukamiskin Prison.  

The most populous country in Southeast Asia runs overcrowded jails and pays their warden and guards pennies, making them susceptible to bribes from well-off inmates. 

While building new prisons on remote islands may be the answer to the first problem, fixing the second is more critical to the integrity of the prison system. 

"It will be impossible for the inmates to play around [with the system] if the guards don't let them. The mechanism for granting [temporary] leave is not strict enough. So what's actually needed is a fix to the system," Alfeus Jebabun from the Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Judicial Independence said on Tuesday. 

Alfeus said the government must improve the recruitment and working environment of jail guards and wardens to stave off corruption in the prison system. 

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, the deputy chairman of Setara Institute, supported the idea of building more prisons on remote islands, especially for corruptors, as it adds to the level of punishment.

"So far prison officers [seem to be helpless] against bribes. Corrupt prisoners [seem to be] free to do anything they want, including wandering outside prisons. Moving their prisons to remote islands far from the city will be another kind of punishment," Bonar said.

He said remote island prisons will have a deterrent effect and minimize the chances of corruptors in jail giving bribes to prison guards. 

"[Improving] the integrity of prison officials is important, but it's not easy to reform the bureaucracy. Now is the time to raise the penalties for these corruptors," Bonar said.