Jakarta Post, 6 Agust 2013

The rumble resulted from the uproar in Tanjung Gusta Penitentiary in Medan had yet to cease, the public was shocked by media reports of super-special facilities provided to drug convict on death row Freddy Budiman at Cipinang Penitentiary in East Jakarta. The news about the practice deals a further blow not only to the country’s fight against drugs but also its war on corruption.

In this shameful incident, it was revealed later that Freddy was given a special chamber that allowed his female associates to make conjugal visits. The drug convict also used the chamber to consume methamphetamine, or shabu-shabu. Presumably the international drug lord is still running his business from behind bars, learning from the incident.

It will be tremendously bizarre if our sense of justice is not hurt by this disgraceful incident. This nation has declared drug crimes to be the most extraordinary, but how can a drug felon be given facilities far beyond our common sense? Moreover, in the middle of constant scrutiny of penitentiaries, how is it possible that such misconduct keeps recurring?

When one attempts to trace the provision of numerous facilities to high-profile inmates, the public might not be too shocked by the luxury that Freddy has enjoyed. A series of events demonstrated that penitentiary has turned into a temporary rest area for felons. With their financial might, those inmates easily “buy” prison authorities.

In the corruption field, for instance, we cannot forget the frequent outings of former junior tax officer Gayus HP Tambunan, including overseas, while in police detention. We can also recall luxurious facilities provided to graft convict Artalyta Suryani in the Pondok Bambu women prison in East Jakarta. Both facts show that jail wardens may play a double role as state officials and members of the drug mafia.

Therefore, when the news about the special chamber for Freddy was leaked to the public, our skepticism about the government’s commitment to turning penitentiary institution into a curative agent for criminals, especially those convicted of extraordinary crimes, is seemingly unmistakable. It has long been rumored that penitentiaries have instead become a safe havens for many crime lords to control their illicit businesses from within.

It is imaginable that as the penitentiary has never come under the public spotlight, prison guards of Cipinang Drugs Penitentiary easily sell their authorities to prisoners. Compared to other penitentiaries, Cipinang definitely possesses a much tighter internal control mechanism. But if a strictly controlled penitentiary like Cipinang is prone to misconducts, how about other drug and ordinary penitentiaries?

Perhaps, among other explanation of the rampant misconducts involving prison guards is this nation’s lack of commitment to the eradication of drug crimes. One of the pieces of proof of the state of inferiority is the government’s clemency to Schapelle Corby, an Australian citizen who was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment. As far as the public is concerned, protests and objection from various quarters failed to stop the government from slashing Corby’s jail term by five years.

Before Corby, the drug convict on death row Meirika Franola (Ola) was commuted to life imprisonment for human rights reasons. The clemency backfired later on as West Java’s National Narcotics Agency (BNN) discovered that Ola had masterminded an attempt to smuggle 775 grams of methamphetamine from India via Hussein Sastranegara Airport in Bandung. It’s clear that Ola has metamorphosed from a courier into an inmate-trafficker within only a year after the clemency was granted.

Possibilities are open that the lack of commitment among the high-level government officials to the fight against drugs has weakened enforcement of the law against the drug convicts. Not to mention the fact penitentiaries are one of most difficult-to-manage units within the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. By far, the classic problem of authority trade among jail wardens and prisoners, particularly the high-profile ones, is nearly unsolvable.

Judging from the gravity of drug-related crimes and their impacts on future generations, the immediate dismissal of Cipinang Drugs Penitentiary warden is far from adequate to appease the public anger with the super-luxurious facilities given to Freddy.

The disgraceful incident has hurt the public’s sense of justice, but unfortunately the people have not heard any convincing response from the highest authority. Hopes abound that concrete measures to cope with the frequent scandals inside the country’s penitentiaries will be taken immediately, rather than normative statements.

Apart from being sensitive to the public’s high expectations in the wake of the recent Cipinang prison incident, it is better for the law enforcers to no longer put on hold the court’s verdict that sentenced Freddy to death.

That the court heightened the punishment for Freddy such as deprivation of some of his rights as an inmate should be well understood as the court’s refusal to give him mercy. His bid for leniency should therefore be perceived as an attempt to impede the court’s verdict.

Freddy’s quest for clemency is not worth considering anymore given his nerve to bribe prison guards. The government should have learned a lesson from the leniency awarded to Ola.

It must be underlined that the longer the law enforcers defer the court’s verdict the more opportunities are there for Freddy to spring more spectacular “surprises”. Should the authorities wait for another slap in the face? Or, probably, drug crimes have ceased to be a serious threat to the nation.

The writer is professor of constitutional law and director of the Center for Constitution Studies (PUSaKO) at Andalas University’s School of Law, Padang.