Out of Control

It is no secret that when many prisoners are sentenced to time at Kerobokan Prison, or await execution there, their crimes do not stop while on the inside. The vastly overcrowded prison, which holds more than three times the inmates it was built for, is a hotbed for criminal activity, most notoriously involving the sale and use of illegal drugs.

The badly positioned correctional facility, on the fringes of the commercially important Kuta tourism area, has also experienced outbreaks of violence in recent years that call into question the security of the prison. This week that unrest heightened with prisoners taking control, prompting security forces to storm the building early on Wednesday and regain authority, a mission which as of late on Thursday they failed in and instead started bussing foreigners and women to another prison over fears they may be used as hostages. The violence, it is believed, was sparked by a stabbing incident.

Structural damage has been caused and prisoner files destroyed by fire – another reason for the authorities to abandon last-century paper ways and go digital, with information stored in a central, secure database.

With over 1,000 prisoners squashed into a prison meant for 300, the authorities, both here and at the overseeing Justice and Human Rights Ministry in Jakarta, need to urgently re-examine an idea put forward several years ago to build a new, much larger facility in another part of Bali, one well away from passing tourists.

Along with that they must ask themselves why so much difficulty persists in the management and operation of Kerobokan Prison. Most prisoners there are serving time for drugs offenses, and we know that drugs are readily available behind the high walls. The prison officers are pliable; this we know from arrests and prosecutions of them over drugs offenses. Temptation comes in the form of bribes when their salaries are piteously low, and cash will get prisoners whatever they want – mobile phones, internet and whatever substances are required.

Kerobokan Prison has been entirely out of control for many years. If the authorities wish to protect Bali’s delicate international profile, and those serving time, swift and stern action is required now.

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