In this April 23, 2016 photo, Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly, left, chats with inmates at Banceuy Penitentiary in the West Java capital of Bandung. (Antara Photo/Agus Bebeng)

Indonesian Prison System at More than Double Its Capacity 


SEPTEMBER 27, 2021

Jakarta. Prison overcrowding has become a thorny issue for the Indonesian government for decades and it came to light again after the deadly fire that killed 49 inmates in Tangerang, Banten, earlier this month.

The Justice Ministry admitted on Monday the national prison system is currently at more than double its capacity.

"The combined capacity of all prisons is 130,107 but we currently have 265,865 inmates. That means the national prison system has exceeded its maximum occupancy rate by 101.25 percent,” Reynhard Silitonga, the ministry’s director general of correctional services, said in a webinar.

“More than half of overall inmates, or 133,550, are drug offense convicts," he added.


He implied that many drug offense convicts shouldn’t have been imprisoned to ease the burden, saying there are currently more than 49,000 drug users among the inmates.

There have been many discussions suggesting that drug users should be sent to rehabilitation centers instead of going to jail.

His remarks came nearly three weeks after an overcrowded prison in Tangerang, just south of Jakarta, caught fire and burned tens of inmates to death. The blaze killed 41 inmates on the spot, while eight others died at hospital.

The Justice Ministry said a vast majority of the dead are drug offense convicts. The prison housed 2,072 inmates and the burned cells at Block C2 had 122 occupants at the time of the incident.

A cell at the Tangerang Penitentiary is destroyed by fire on Sept. 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Justice Ministry)
A number of cells at the Tangerang Penitentiary is destroyed by fire on Sept. 8, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Justice Ministry)

Reynhard said it needs special intervention from all stakeholders to tackle prison overcrowding beyond regular sentence cuts issued during national and religious holidays for prisoners with good behavior.

“The disparity between incoming prisoners and outgoing ones is the main cause for prison overcrowding,” he said.

Speaking at the same webinar, Deputy Justice Minister Edward Hiariej proposed non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment in petty crimes.

“There are at least four available alternatives to imprisonment, including fines, social works, surveillance and suspended sentence, all don’t require us to send people to penitentiaries,” Edward said.

“For instance, for a crime punishable by up to four years in prison, the sentence can be replaced by social works. [A convict] sentenced to between two and three years can be put under surveillance, and a jail sentence of below two years can be replaced by a suspended sentence,” he said.

Edward said building new prisons won’t solve the issue without collaborative efforts to reduce the number of incoming prisoners.

Part of the efforts is enacting the bill on illicit drugs into law, as it orders drug users to be rehabilitated, not jailed.

“It costs us at least Rp 300 billion [$21 million] to build a prison, and it’s just the building without all necessary equipment. How many more prisons do we have to build?” he said.

In addition, the correctional directorate is currently understaffed, with just 42,000 employees to manage all prisons across the country, he said.

In short, it takes actions from all law authorities including the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Police to overcome prison overcrowding, Edward said.

“It’s the judges who deliver prison sentences, not the correctional directorate. During the sentencing process, those judges don’t bother with prison capacity,” he said.