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The Dangers of Prisons Overcrowded By The Drug Offenders

Davy Hendri
Lecturer at UIN Imam Bonjol Padang
Ph.D. Students at Economics Department
University of Indonesia, Depok

Indonesia's criminal justice system has been the subject of public discussion recently. The
public began to doubt the effectiveness of the Indonesian criminal justice system deterrent
effect, especially the imprisonment’s one. This doubt was triggered by the disclosure of
several criminal cases inside the prison. Among various cases, drugs cases are the most

These cases included raids by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN, Badan Nasional
Narkotika) on drugs dealers operating inside prisons (and detention centers). Not only that
but BNN also revealed several prison heads (prisons and detention centers) who were
protectors and accepted bribes from drug dealers (Tempo, 2017).

Those case happened massively both in prisons and detention centers throughout Indonesia.
Although they kept behind bars, it seems imprisoned drug offenders are not turning them into
better human beings. What happened to the drug offenders who were in jail? Are Indonesian
prisons, can still be expected to provide a deterrent effect for criminals, especially offenders?

The Overcrowded prison

The total prison population size is identical to and correlates with the utility perceived by a
prisoner negatively (Lessing, 2017). Overcrowding has a corrosive effect. It is like cancer
eating at the ability of the prison service to deliver effective education, tackle offending
behavior and prepare prisoners for life on the outside.

In the Indonesian context, the overcrowded the total prison population problem requires extra
attention. In 2013, the Indonesian prison capacity was able to accommodate 111,857
prisoners. Meanwhile, in the same year, the number of inmates had reached 160,063

In 2017, the correctional institution's additional capacity can accommodate 123,481

prisoners. But the number of inmates shot up to 232,081 prisoners. In the 2013-2017 range,
prison capacity growth which was only 10.4% (or an average of 2.2% per year), grew at a
leisure pace. Meanwhile, in the same range, the total prison population growth reached 45%
(or nearly 9% per year), growing at a fast pace (ICJR, 2018).

In this case, Indonesia does not seem to be alone. Even several developed countries, whose
most developed resources and legal systems and judiciary, also record more "achievements."
The Prison Reform Trust (2018) calculates that around 20,000 prisoners in the UK - almost a
quarter of the total - are held in overcrowded conditions. Many share cells designed for one.
At the meanwhile, in the US, eighteen states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons operated their
prison facilities at more than 100 percent capacity at the end of 2014 (BJS, 2015).

The Imprisoned Drugs Offenders

We can imagine how the conditions of the cell inside the overcrowded prisons and its impact
on both the prisoner's mental and physical health. The denser (more crowded) the prison
population, so the lesser an inmate’s utility. So, joining into a prison gang is a rational
decision to enhance an offender’s total well-being in imprisonment with long sentences and
harsh conditions. The gang protection can be in the form of providing food and medicine
when the prison administration (detention) fails to provide it adequately, delivering messages
among detainees, and assisting the lives of detainee’s family members.

At the other hand, most crimes, especially drug offenses and robbery, occur in the form of
group action (co-offending). In the US, street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), and
prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States
(FBI, 2015).

The question is whether the arrest and imprisonment of one member of the group will end
group crime or only lead to a process of recruiting new members. Many community and law
enforcement officials mistakenly believe that when a gang member is incarcerated, the threat
disappears. In reality, incarcerated gang members often use the prison environment to recruit
other members and perpetuate their criminal enterprise.

Attempts made by criminal justice professionals to disrupt prison gangs by transferring their
leaders and dangerous members to other prison systems have had little impact. Gang
members who are moved to new institutions with few or no gang members will often form
new gangs, and gangs that lose a leader will likely generate a new one.

In the Indonesian context, the drugs offenders’ proportion to the total prison population
shows a significant increase every year. In 2011, the proportion of drugs offenders was
around 33% of the total prison population. Then in 2015, the proportion reached almost 40%
(Kemenkumham, 2018).

The UK, stirred by news of gang arrests that smuggle drugs and cell phones using drones to
various inmates in prisons across the UK. The action of 55 drug shipments carried out during
April 2016-June 2017 worth £ 500,000 was revealed in late 2018 (BBC, 2018).

The US prison also revealed more astonishing facts. Prisons in most states have become a
haven for drug offenders. Much of the gang’s criminal enterprise is coordinated from behind
bars. One of the famous drug offenders legend stories is Larry Hoover, the Gangster Disciples
leader, who was convicted of running — from $ 100 million-per-year drug operations that
stretched across 35 states.

Reducing Imprisoned Drugs Users

Since the prison becoming overcrowded by the drug offenders, especially drug dealers, it's
deterrent effect will decrease further. Instead of deterring it, the prisons could shift its
function as incubators - contributing to the growth of crime. In other words, imprisonment
turns into a trigger for the crime (criminogenic effects).

The prison seems to function as a learning environment for the prisoners-a school for crime,
especially when their non-criminal human resources depreciate. So, the strategy option might

be to try to break the chain of (social) interaction between advanced level offenders and the
beginner one. Separation of prisoners based on his social harm level could be a low-cost

Of course, it should also include the use of prisons and detention centers according to their
appropriate functions. Meanwhile, efforts to reduce the density of the prison population can
be made by removing drug users from prisoners and sending them to rehabilitation centers.
This effort also aims to break the social interaction between the drugs users and the drugs