Jakarta officials disagree on drug issue

One wants addicts to undergo rehab but the other wants to end funding for it

JAKARTA • Two top Indonesian officials appear to be at loggerheads over dealing with drug offenders.

Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly on Monday deplored the level of overcrowding in prisons, saying more needed to be done to rehabilitate, rather than incarcerate, drug users who make up a large portion of the prison population.

"Prisons are supposed to serve a role as a place for redemption," Mr Yasonna said at a conference in Bogor. "What we would like is for (convicted drug users) to have their sentences commuted, while drug dealers and traffickers get heavier sentences."

He noted that the country's 477 prisons, all managed by the Justice Ministry, were severely overcrowded. They were built to hold 119,500 people but now house more than 173,000 - leaving them nearly 45 per cent over capacity, the Jakarta Globe reported.

Mr Yasonna said casual drug users and addicts accounted for some 18,400 inmates but, ideally, they should be in rehabilitation centres rather than in prison.

"The most humane solution would be to, at one end, work with the police and the BNN (National Narcotics Agency) to crack down on drug trafficking and, at the other end, to help rehabilitate the users in prison," he said.

Indonesia's notoriously harsh drug laws were amended a few years ago to allow addicts, or those caught with small amounts of narcotics for personal consumption, to opt for mandatory rehabilitation to avoid criminal charges.

However, that provision remains little-known among the general population, while police, prosecutors and judges tend to favour prosecuting all drug offenders, regardless of the amount of narcotics they are caught with or whether they express a willingness to undergo rehabilitation.

The Justice Ministry's conciliatory approach to handling drug offenders was in stark contrast to that of new BNN chief Budi Waseso, who has called for an end to government funding for rehabilitation centres, and repeatedly branded drug users - whether they reform or not - as "less than human", according to the Jakarta Globe.

Mr Budi has proposed building a prison guarded by crocodiles on an island to hold drug convicts on death row. "We will place as many crocodiles as we can there. I will search for the most ferocious type of crocodile," he was quoted as saying by local news website Tempo.

Mr Budi said that crocodiles would be better at preventing drug traffickers from escaping prison as they could not be bribed - unlike human guards.

The plan is still in the early stages and neither the location or potential opening date of the jail has been decided, Agence France-Presse said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Jakarta officials disagree on drug issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe