Chaos in our Jails
Unrest at the Langkat jail was sparked by officers’ bad behavior. Management and supervision must be fixed.
Unrest at Langkat’s special incarceration institution for narcotics shows the government’s failure to bring order to jails. The government has not been serious enough in improving penitentiary management, allowing incidents like that in the North Sumatran city to repeat themselves. Officers’ low integrity, and bad management and supervision result in dirty practices in jails which are difficult to erase.
At the Langkat jail, some convicts are free to operate their narcotics ring from behind bars. These illegal transactions are also rife within the jail. The warden and jail guards apparently turn a blind eye towards these violations because they are suspected to receive bribes. Those who are supposed to uphold regulations turn out to be the violators themselves.
The incident erupted when conspiracies went awry. In the middle of May, one inmate was kicked, strangled and stamped on by three guards under the accusation of smuggling drugs into the jail. However, the suspicion is that the inmate was tortured because he did not pay his bribe. This abuse was carried out in front of other inmates, sparking their anger. They rioted and set the building on fire. Hundreds of inmates escaped.
A number of inmates testified that the Langkat guards frequently tortures them if they do not pay up their routine bribes. Inmates even have to pay for making phone calls, as mobile phones are officially not allowed in jails. This attitude of ‘trading regulations’ is completely out of line.
Steps by Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly to fire Bachtiar Sitepu, warden of the Langkat jail, must be supported. However, this is not enough: the minister must also appoint a clean and firm figure to lead the prisons. The new appointee must be required to apply good management and tight supervision.
The Langkat incident adds to a long list of unrest in jails throughout the country. In the past five months, three incidents have erupted. The previous two were at the Siak jail in Riau and the Surakarta jail in Central Java. Our prisons have continued to degenerate after the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) last year unveiled a practice of selling leave permits and rooms at the Sukamiskin jail in Bandung, West Java, which is a special jail for convicts in corruption cases.
Special jails should actually have better management systems than regular ones. The Sukamiskin and Langkat incidents show that those two special institutions have become breeding places for dirty practices. Besides bad behavior from the guards, jail management appears to be in chaos. Drug dealers are put in the same place with users, while the latter should not be there in the first place and be placed at a rehabilitation center instead.
Minister Yasonna must shake up prison management, starting by ending its dual supervision. Technically, penitentiaries operate under the director-general of penitentiaries. However, for their budgets and supervision, jails fall under the justice ministry’s secretary-general.
This overlap clearly makes revamping jails more difficult. Only one ranking official should have the responsibility over all penitentiary matters, including dirty practices and unrests like those in Langkat.