News / Asia

Indonesian Prison Program Teaches Nonviolence to Imprisoned Terrorists

Inmates at Tangerang prison in Jakarta leave their cells to participate in conflict resolution training
Inmates at Tangerang prison in Jakarta leave their cells to participate in conflict resolution training


After learning that a new terrorist group had sprung up in the Indonesian prison system earlier this year, officials put in place a new program aimed to blunt the influence of radical Islamists among the inmate population.  

Conflict resolution training is now part of the routine for inmate at Tangerang prison in the capital, Jakarta.

The program was developed by the international organization Search For Common Ground. The classes examine why these prisoners used violence in the past, the consequences of their actions and nonviolent solutions.

"We teach them and we train them how to make the switch from destructive behavior to the constructive behavior," said Agus Nahrowi from Search For Common Ground.  Instructors also use games to emphasize how cooperation and collaboration can help people achieve their goals.

Some inmates at the training facility have been convicted of participating in terrorist acts. None agreed to be interviewed.

Inmate Edy Purnanan is incarcerated for what he describes as charges related to child protection.  He said the training is helping all of the prisoners deal with their anger and violent impulses.  After attending sessions, Purnanan said, participants were open to the idea of solving problems without violence.  

The new emphasis on this type of training was put in place after Indonesian security forces discovered a new terrorist organization operating in the country in February.  Police say raids captured or killed most of its members.  Police later learned that the leaders had been using prisons to recruit members and even plan operations, said Tito Karnavian, who is in charge of Indonesia's anti-terrorist unit.

"But what happened in the prison, they can convene and sit and discuss freely and safe and secure, by the government. That's happening," said Karnavian.

Most of the prisoners here come from a background of poverty.  Security analyst Sidney Jones, with the International Crisis Group, said such people are vulnerable to recruitment by terrorist organizations.

"We have a number of young prisoners who have joined up in a radical movement out of a kind of a sense of idealism that they were doing something active to defend fellow Muslims in other countries or, indeed, at home," Jones said.

A key goal of the conflict management training is to counter this kind of influence of radical Islamist leaders in prisons.

In the prison mosque, moderate Muslim clerics provide religious guidance, emphasizing what  they say is Islam's message of peace. The prison also offers inmates training for jobs in the garment industry, food service and a variety of vocations.

The head of development at Tangerang prison Pujo Hartinto said these voluntary programs are having some success in helping inmates who want to change. But he added hardcore radicals in prison refuse to participate. And Hartinto said it is not easy to change people with strong beliefs  related to terrorism.

"The easiest thing would be to insure that prisoners don't have access to cell phones," said International Crisis Group security analyst Sidney Jones. "Cell phones are the most critical element of communication and planning and so on."  And Jones believes would-be terrorist recruits need to be separated from the other inmates.

While acknowledging that rehabilitation programs like the one in Tangerang prison are important, Jones warned that radical leaders among the population must be isolated or Indonesian prisons will continue to be provide space for terrorist recruitment and planning.

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