Indonesia should promote restorative justice and send fewer people to prison

The idea of restorative justice is to redress crime, while ensuring offenders can reintegrate back into the community. www.shutterstock.com

Indonesia should promote restorative justice and send fewer people to prison

Indonesia has an opportunity to deliver a criminal justice system that is modern, substantive and ultimately fairer to its citizens. The current Criminal Code (KUHP), the foundation of the criminal justice system in Indonesia, was adopted from the Dutch colonial administration and has never been substantially modified in the 73 years since.

A draft revision, the RKUHP, now sits before the national legislature (DPR). The RKUHP has provisions aimed at reducing short-term imprisonment, including alternatives to incarceration such as supervision and community service. The government and lawmakers should put greater focus on these alternative means of punishment.

Currently, the number of people in detention is around 250,000, up from 160,000 in 2013, according to data from the Directorate General of Corrections. The increase means the country’s prisons are 47% over capacity, according to the Center for Detention Studies (CDS) in 2017.

Almost 60% of detainees in Indonesia are in prison for drug offences. It would be better to treat people with drug addiction in health-care facilities instead of putting them in prison. As for the rest of detainees jailed for petty crimes, rather than putting them behind bars for their crimes, training offenders in the skills needed to be productive would allow them to contribute more to society.


Read more: Why Indonesia should stop sending drug users to prison


Restorative justice

An alternative to penal punishment involves mediation between the victim and the offender, and sometimes representatives of the wider community. It’s called restorative justice. The idea is to redress crime, while at the same time ensuring offenders can reintegrate into the community.

Studies show restorative practices not only promote healing but also reduce repeat offending. A 2008 study in the UKshows that restorative justice reduced recidivism by an average of 27%. Victims found the process helpful and positive. Some offenders have described the meetings as “traumatic” as well as life-changing.

Restorative justice can also help identify offenders who need special treatment, such as rehabilitation for drug users.

Indonesia’s experience

Restorative justice has taken a more prominent role in Indonesia’s criminal justice system since the Child Protection Law was amended in 2014. Although meant at first to be applied only to children and young persons, it has sparked a discourse around the Indonesian justice system.

Since 2017 the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) has been talking to academics and non-governmental organisations to discuss strategies for implementing restorative justice more broadly in Indonesia.

In researching this issue, Bappenas has looked at the implementation of restorative justice in Aceh, Sumatra. Aceh has special autonomy and has established a cultural institution, gampong, to settle disputes.

The gampong adjudicate a wide range of matters, including family and neighbour disputes, adultery allegations, property disputes, theft, assault, harassment, libel and defamation, land and forest burning, customary violations regarding cattle, farms and social forests, and others.

Aceh’s alternative to penal punishment is not without criticism, as it allows caning as a punishment. I am not promoting the use of Sharia-based punishment but the process of dispute settlement by community institutions. This type of mediation allow for disputes to be settled in a way that brings together victims and perpetrator in the same room.

This system does not need police intervention and can prevent petty crimes from having to be processed through the formal justice system.

A new criminal justice system

The deliberation of a new Criminal Code is an opportunity for Indonesia to rebuild its criminal justice system. Yet the bill still includes imprisonment as the main method to punish many offences.

For example, someone spreading communist ideology or insulting the president can be imprisoned under the RKUHP. Another controversial point is the expanded definition of adultery to apply to unmarried persons. This effectively makes any kind of pre- or extra-marital sex a crime.


Read more: The missing link in the deliberation on Indonesia's criminal code bill


Since the RKUHP will serve as the foundation of our criminal justice system, it will also have a major impact on corrections reform in Indonesia. As the RKUHP currently stands, the new offences will pose a challenge to Indonesia’s already overwhelmed prisons.

CDS research estimates the standard living cost of prisoners in the Greater Jakarta area is about Rp59,000 rupiah per day, or about US$4. Funding from the government covers only half this amount.

The gap means the Directorate General of Corrections faces many problems in ensuring the human rights of prisoners. Managing a prison involves dealing with various factors. Prison buildings, for example, need to meet certain quality standards. To achieve these and other standards, prisons need good administration with high-quality resources.

Restorative justice can provide a solution to the state of Indonesia’s prisons. It may take time to implement a strategy towards a restorative justice system. But it’s not impossible. Many countries have started to implement this system and reap its benefits.

As the government and lawmakers deliberate on the country’s Criminal Code, they should consider restorative justice as a way to minimise overcrowding and to ensure offenders are truly rehabilitated and can be valuable members of society.

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