Indonesia inmates buy jail luxury

Corruption allows rich prisoners to live a lavish lifestyle behind bars.

Indonesia prison luxury Artalyta Suryani

An investigation into Indonesia’s prisons has found that some inmates live a life of luxury behind bars, with flat-screen televisions and king-sized beds.

A video shot by a local television station showed the lavish living quarters of a businesswoman who was sentenced to five years in prison for bribing a prosecutor with $600,000 for dropping a case against her.

In prison, Artalyta Suryani’s had access to a private bathroom and an adjoining karaoke suite.

She was serviced by maids and allowed to receive unlimited visits and beauty treatments in her room.

The details of the living conditions of Suryani and other rich prisoners have topped the news in Indonesian media this week, after a team set up by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president, made a surprise visit to Jakarta Pondok Bambu women’s penitentiary.

“We found a number of wealthy inmates had been provided with exclusive facilities,” Denny Indrayana, a member of the team, said.

“They allegedly paid some corrupt individuals in the prison to get all they want. It shows the weakness of our judicial system.”

‘Investigation under way’

Suryani has reportedly been moved to a general population cell, shared with three other prisoners, since the details became public.

“Investigation into other prisons is now under way to eradicate such practises,” Untung Sugiyono, the director-general of prisons at the justice ministry, said.

Average prisoner in Indonesia sleep on the floor in cement cells, often along with dozens of other inmates.  

“It has been a public secret for many years that the rich and powerful live like kings and queens in prison.”

Step Vaessen,
Al Jazeera correspondent

Anton Medan, who spent more than 18 years in 14 different Indonesian prisons, told Al Jazeera that special treatment of rich prisoners is common.

He said prison directors rely on the money from rich convicts because the government is not doing anything to improve conditions in overcrowded prisons.

“There is something positive about this corruption. At least we don’t have any fights in these over-crowded prisons because the money of corrupt people keeps them quiet.

“Of course it should not be like that, the government should take care of it,” he said.

Another example of prisoners receiving special treatment was Tommy Suharto, the son of a former Indonesian president, who had personal staff and used a helicopter landing pad to go on regular outings while serving a 15-year sentence for masterminding the murder of a judge.

In return he built a small factory inside prison to keep inmates busy. He was released after four years.

‘Tip of the ice berg’

Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from the capital, Jakarta, said it has been a “public secret” for many years that the rich and powerful live like kings and queens in prison.

“Now when this has finally come into the open the special treatment will be harder to get. But looking at the corrupt Indonesian justice system, this is only tip of the iceberg.”

The government has announced harsh action against the corrupt practices, including sacking prison heads and staff. After the news about Suryani broke, the president allocated $1bn to improve the prison system in the country.

Transparency International ranks Indonesia among the most corrupt in the world.

Bambang Harymurti, the chief editor of the weekly Tempo Magazine, told Al Jazeera that corruption is “everywhere” in Indonesia.

“If [the president] is serious about eradicating the corruption, he should start first with corruption at judiciary, at the police, at the prosecutes, in prison and in the court. Because without cleaning up corruption in these places, corrupt people with live very happily inside prison.”

“[Suryani] is known as a mafia broker of judiciary mafia … Even inside the jail she can live a luxurious life because of her connections with people in high places.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies