A New Solution for Drugs Addict
The success of habilitation programs in a number of jails proves that drug users need rehabilitation, not criminalization.
THE government has long been proposing rehabilitation for all drug users at medical facilities rather than putting them in jail. But like many noble and sensible ideas in this nation, this proposal has yet to be realized. Jails are becoming more crowded every day, while the number of drug users continues to rise.
According to the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), between 2017 and 2019 there was an increase in the number of drug users from 3.3 million to 3.6 million. Almost 70 percent of them are believed to be school or university students. This number rises every year, without any signs of a fall. In other words, the government strategy in the war on drugs needs fundamental revision.
On many occasions, Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Hamonangan Laoly and the BNN leadership have spoken enthusiastically of the plan to revise Law No. 35/2009 on narcotics. This law needs changing because it does not clearly distinguish between criminalization for drug dealers and rehabilitation for users. Although it was included in the 2021 National Legislation Program, the revised version of this law has not been sent to Senayan—the location of the House of Representatives (DPR) building in Jakarta.
The root of the problem is the fact that there are two articles that are mutually contradictory in the Narcotics Law. Article 54 states that drug addicts and victims of drug abuse must obtain medical and social rehabilitation, while article 127 states that victims of drug abuse must be punished like their dealers and traffickers. Until these two articles are harmonized, the strategy to eradicate drugs in Indonesia will go nowhere.
Unfortunately, many people still believe that the best way to solve the drug problem is through imprisonment. Prosecution of every person who comes into contact with marijuana, crystal methamphetamine, ecstasy pills or heroin is seen as the most effective solution. That is plainly wrong. Putting drug users behind bars will not cure them. And as long as there are still people who need drugs, the supply and distribution will continue to be widespread.
Research in many nations has backed this contention. A study of drug users in the United States carried out by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union and released in 2016 showed that criminalization wrecks the lives of people convicted of drugs offences. They become long term victims, their families break down, they find it difficult to obtain work, lose social support, experience discrimination and are stigmatized for life.
A special report in this magazine about four narcotics prisons reaches similar conclusions. Sleman Narcotics Penitentiary in Yogyakarta, Tanjungpinang Narcotics Penitentiary in the Riau Islands, Sungguminasa Narcotics Penitentiary in South Sulawesi, and Pamekasan Narcotics Penitentiary in East Java were chosen because these correctional facilities prioritize rehabilitation in the way that they treat their inmates. They do not treat convicts as criminals, but as patients who need to be weaned off their drug dependency.
Yogyakarta Penitentiary, for example, encourages inmates to read extensively and even to write their own books. Tanjungpinang and Pamekasan Penitentiaries have built Islamic boarding schools inside the jails and treat their inmates like students. Meanwhile, Sungguminasa Penitentiary encourages inmates to learn more about themselves by learning to read the Qur’an.
Unfortunately, these good examples set by a number of prisons are still the exception. Moreover, implementing their way of treating drug convicts would be extremely difficult if jails become even more crowded. At present, there are 254,284 people in jail throughout Indonesia and more than half of them have been convicted of drugs offenses. If all these drug users were rehabilitated in Islamic schools or competent medical rehabilitation centers outside jails, the problem of overcrowding in our prisons would be solved immediately.
Changing public opinion, which still supports the criminalization of drug users, will not be easy. The first step is to tackle the belief that drug users and addicts are people who have failed and are morally misguided. This is a mistaken assumption. Many of them began using drugs to deal with stress, depression or other mental pressures. In consultation with medical authorities, the use of prescribed doses of narcotics can turn drug users into active and productive members of society.
It is time the government and the DPR get more serious about promoting the drug user rehabilitation policy. If the revisions to the Narcotics Law fail to be passed this year, the price we will have to pay for the mistaken strategy of eradicating drugs will become increasingly unaffordable.