The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Indonesia on Tuesday (18/07) observed Nelson Mandela Day to honor the great legacy of the late South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary, while also highlighting the challenges faced by prison systems as well as possible solutions to address the issues. (JG Photo/Sheany)

Nelson Mandela Day Draws Attention to Indonesia's Overcrowded Prisons


JULY 20, 2017

Jakarta. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Indonesia on Tuesday (18/07) observed Nelson Mandela Day to honor the great legacy of the late South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary, while also highlighting the challenges faced by Indonesia's prison system and possible solutions to address the issues.

"Starting this year, the day also draws attention to the often forgotten prison population of over ten million people worldwide," UNODC Indonesia country manager Collie Brown said during the event commemorating Nelson Mandela Day at the United Nations office in Jakarta.

Across the globe, prisoners face a number of risks that range from health to violence as well as the emerging threats of violent extremism and radicalization within prison walls.

However, in many countries prison systems are still inadequate to address the various challenges, which added to the "complexity of combining security, safety and human dignity within prisons," Brown said.

Since 1957, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoner (SMRs) have served as a relevant source and practical guidance for prison management for UN member states. Although SMRs are not legally binding, they provide guidelines for citizens held in prisons and other forms of custody.

In December 2015, the UN General Assembly revised and adopted SMR after a five-year revision process, and it has since became known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.

The SMR covers a comprehensive set of rules that among other things, highlight the importance of respecting prisoners’ inherent dignity, ensuring access to medical and health services as well as legal representation and training of staff.

During the event on Tuesday, Brown urged authorities in ensuring the application of the rules in order to make a positive difference in the lives of both prisoners and prison staff.

"We must at all times, bear in mind the plight of prisoners and staff and undertake concrete actions to ensure the conditions in which they live and work afford safety, security, respect and dignity. We must also support every effort the rehabilitation and reintegration of every prisoner," Brown said.

Part of UNODC’s mandate is to provide technical assistance to member states in the field of penal reform.

The UN body recently launched its Global Program on Addressing Prison Challenges, which focuses its work on reducing the scope of imprisonment and preventing crime, strengthening prison management and improving prison conditions, and supporting the social integration of offenders.

Honoring Nelson Mandela’s Legacy

In November 2009, the UN General Assembly declared July 18 as the Nelson Mandela International Day. The date falls on Mandela’s birthday, and serves as a recognition of Mandela’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom around the world.

In 1962, Mandela was charged for conspiring to overthrow the state and sentenced to life imprisonment. He served 27 years in prison. Following his release, he became South Africa’s first black president and the first elected in a representative democratic election in 1994.

When the General Assembly adopted the revised version of SMR in 2015, they also decided to extend the scope of Nelson Mandela Day to promote humane prison conditions of imprisonment and raise awareness among communities about prisoners as a continuous part of society, as well as to value the work of prison staff as an important form of social service.

Indonesia’s Prison Challenges

Lack of capacity in prisons is still one of the biggest problems in Indonesia's penitentiary system, as well as the paucity of rehabilitation programs for inmates to educate and train them before they step out of prison to rejoin society.

"Indonesia has an overcrowded prison system [...] Indonesia's prison population growth is an area that requires attention," Brown said.

As of June 2017, the total prison population in Indonesia has reached 224,000. However, the current prison system is only designed for about half that size.

Indonesia has 510 prisons in 33 provinces, and over 95 percent of those have to deal with overcapacity.

According to Brown, change is necessary from the prison management or operation. But the long-term strategy should also look into how the prison system is integrated into the overall criminal justice system in the country.

He emphasized that "incarceration is not the only option" and that the government needs to find a solution that "balances public safety along with practical solutions to incarceration."

This sentiment was echoed by the chief warden of Jakarta's Cipinang Prison, Asep Sutandar, who said there are cases in which incarceration is not actually necessary.

Indonesia also needs to put more money in rehabilitation and reintegration programs to facilitate ex-prisoners' return to society.

In Cipinang Prison, the Jeera Foundation has been spearheading a growing movement to give convicted criminals a second chance by training them in creative industries inside the prison.

The foundation organizes a series of vocational programs for inmates to teach them various skills — from barista training to bag-making — which will help them survive once they are released.