Skip to main content

Covid-19 Spreads in Indonesia’s Overcrowded Prisons

Authorities Should Seek Releases, Alternatives for At-Risk Detainees

An Indonesian Red Cross worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant at a prison in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, March 23, 2020. © 2020 Agvi Firdaus/SIPA via AP Images

At least 17 prisons in Indonesia have Covid-19 cases, with 120 inmates and 18 officials infected with the coronavirus, according to a joint report from human rights groups. While testing rates are very low, seven inmates are suspected to have died from Covid-19.

The report, by the Jakarta-based Indonesia Judicial Research Society, the Indonesian Institute for Independent Judiciary, and the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, calls on Indonesian authorities to further reduce prison populations.

The report lists seven prisons with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Surabaya and Subang on Java Island; Muara Bulian, Jambi, Pasaman and Muara Sijunjung on Sumatra Island; and Sungguminasa on Sulawesi Island. The Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which oversees those prisons, admitted that health facilities in most prisons are inadequate to contain outbreaks of Covid-19 and care for sick prisoners.

Indonesian prisons and detention centers are notoriously crowded. As of March, the country had almost 270,000 inmates, more than double its total capacity of 133,000. Infectious diseases like Covid-19 can spread rapidly in overcrowded and closed settings like prisons, especially if there’s poor access to health care, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

In April, Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly instructed the ministry to reduce the prison population by 50,000 and suspend prison visits. This helped slow the spread of Covid-19, but it was not enough.

In July, the prisons still held about 234,000 inmates, or 176 percent of the total capacity, according to the directorate general on correctional institutions. The directorate’s online database shows that prisons in 25 of Indonesia’s 34 provinces are overcrowded.

The Ministry of Law and Human Rights should again consider alternatives to custody or early releases or parole for detainees near the end of their prison terms or who pose little security risk. This is also an opportunity to release those who should never have been imprisoned in the first place, such as for peaceful activism or crimes like drug possession. People at high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19 – including inmates with underlying health conditions, older people, and pregnant people – should be given priority.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country