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Over-crowding Indonesia's jails


Jakarta Post, December 26, 2005

Wanted, an integrated approach to thuggery!
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Three days after his release from a police detention center in July, Salim, 23, was back on the streets, extorting money from drivers passing by Tanah Abang market.

"I was arrested together with dozens of others in a big raid in July. I spent one week inside the cell and was released after my family paid the police Rp 200,000. Several days after that, I came back to work here," he told The Jakarta Post while pocketing money from a driver on one of the market's roads recently.

Salim was but one of thousands of thugs who were arrested but later released by the police during a crackdown against thuggery here in May.

The operation, called Sarutama, was launched by National Police chief Gen. Sutanto after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono received complaints about thuggery via SMS.

Hundreds of suspected thugs were arrested during the raids, but police realized not too long after the detention centers were too crowded.

The presence of so many thugs in detention centers created another problem for the cash-strapped city police: how to feed them.

In the meantime, the police were criticized by some experts for failing to look at the problem in its entirety, as young men were becoming thugs out of desperation brought about by poverty.

They said any attempt to crack down on thuggery needed to be accompanied by a job creation scheme.

Overwhelmed by problems in feeding and accommodating the detainees and relentless criticism from experts, many police officers decided to release the thugs for quick cash.

As early as August, it had become apparent that the operation was a failure as many thugs were back in business.

That prompted some observers to accuse the city police of using the operation to earn extra income following the massive crackdown on gambling activities in the capital.

An officer at Jakarta Police Headquarters, who requested anonymity, admitted that questioning and pressing charges against so many thugs was not an easy job, and that many officers at sub-precinct, precinct and headquarters level chose to quietly release the detainees.

"Of course, many officers get additional income by letting the thugs go. The families of those arrested people will be happy to pay. Releasing them also means that the problem of too many people in detention centers is solved," he told the Post.

Noted criminologist of the University of Indonesia Adrianus Meliala criticized the police's lack of planning and measures in cracking down on thuggery in the capital.

"What is the objective of the operation? If it is just an effort to appease the public in the short term then it is fine, but if it aims at eradicating thuggery then it will be ineffective unless other agencies take an active part," he said.

Adrianus said that other agencies, including the social affairs agency and local administrations, should take part as the police could not do much in dealing with social problems such as thuggery.

"All along, the police have fought alone. Remember, thuggery requires a social approach, not only a legal approach. And the police are law enforcers. So, the social affairs agency must take part and provide funds to help the thugs (find jobs)," he told the Post.

He said not all the arrested thugs needed to be kept in state custody as rehabilitation programs run by other agencies could prepare them to go back into society.

Not only did the city police fail to eradicate thuggery on the streets, but in Greater Jakarta organized groups were able to take the law into their own hands.

Police, for instance, chose to do nothing when a group of people blocked roads leading to three churches in Jati Mulya housing complex in Bekasi, West Java. They were also silent when a group of people claiming to be members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) stopped the construction of a church in Cikarang, also in West Java.

Police also did nothing when restaurants and cafes in Kemang, South Jakarta, were forced to cease operations during Idul Fitri after alleged FPI members threatened to raid them if they remained open.

A restaurant chain owner in Jakarta complained that unless the city police took harsh action against organizations that take the law into their own hands, the country would lose its existing foreign investors, let alone attract new investors.