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Drugs, Corruption Rampant in Indonesian Prisons

Inmates look out from inside a burnt down office at Tanjung Gusta prison following a prison riot in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, July 12, 2013.

Inmates look out from inside a burnt down office at Tanjung Gusta prison following a prison riot in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, July 12, 2013.

Sex, drugs and even maids are all available in Indonesian prisons for the right price.

This week salacious admissions from model Vanny Rossyane have reignited debate about the extraordinary privileges granted to wealthy Indonesian prisoners.

The model, 22, said she was granted access to a private room in prison where she would have sex and smoke crystal methamphetamine with her boyfriend, Freddy Budiman, who was being held on death-row.

Budiman was sentenced to death this July after he was found guilty of trying to smuggle more than a million ecstasy pills from China.

Already in Jakarta’s Cipinang prison on drug charges, the 37-year-old allegedly ran his narcotics business on five cell phones from inside prison.

It’s not the first time such claims have emerged. Over recent years, prisoners have been caught with everything from flat screen TVs to having cosmetic surgery in their cells.

Anything for a price

Leopold Sudaryono, the law coordinator at the Asia Foundation in Jakarta, says that it's common to pay for basic goods in prison.

“I think that since the resources are scarce, they [inmates] need to pay for the resources like food, even for the mattresses, you’ve got to pay rent for that," he said. "You have to pay for everything if you can afford and if you don’t have family support you need to work inside serving other inmates.”

Indonesian prisons operate like a complex business ecosystem, sustained by corruption, overcrowding, mismanagement and poor resources.

With prison guards earning about $300 a month, there is an incentive to make money on the side by allowing inmates to have cell phones and other luxuries.

Sudaryono said the arrangement is mutually beneficial and actually can help maintain stability within grossly overcrowded jails.

Today there are around 160,000 inmates across the country and the Indonesian jails that house them are struggling to accommodate - let alone rehabilitate - the ballooning influx.

Lack of resources

Sudaryono said in the most overcrowded prisons, there is one guard per 900 prisoners.

“Actually the problem of overcrowding is not unique to Indonesia or other developing countries," he said. "Actually countries like the U.S. and Australia also have problems with overcrowding, but the problem is in Indonesia, the rate is just so extraordinary. I mean we can have rates like 600-700 percent overcrowding in a number of prisons.”

This month more than 200 inmates managed to escape after rioting in the overcrowded Tanjung Gusta Prison in Sumatra. More than 100 inmates, including four convicted terrorists, are still on the loose.

A week later, 12 inmates managed to escape from a jail in Batam.

Analysts say such incidents are examples of how deep the system problems run. They say improving prisons will requires leadership, increased funds and a serious push to streamline the bureaucracy.

Ali Aranoval, director of the Center for Detention Studies in Jakarta said the government should also put drug users in rehabilitation centers rather than jail. He said that drug dealers and users account for nearly 60,000 of the total 160,000 prisoners.

He argued that putting small time users in rehab would ease the overcapacity problems, curb bribery and prevent even more people from getting addicted to drugs in jail.

Selling drugs, he said, is more lucrative on the inside than out.

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