President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on law enforcers to make a distinction between drug users and drug dealers, saying the former should, where possible, be rehabilitated rather than jailed.
Speaking on Monday to mark the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls tomorrow, Yudhoyono said the current law enforcement approach to tackling drug offenses was ineffective because it criminalized users who should be treated as victims.
“Members of our young generation, who have become victims [of drug use], are losing their past and their present,” he said at the State Palace. “Don’t let them lose their future as well. We must give them guidance. The solution [for drug users] is not jail, but rehabilitation. The concept shouldn’t be one of punishment, but of salvation.”
The president said the problem with the police’s current blanket approach of jailing all drug offenders, no matter the severity of their crime, was that there was always the danger that the exposure to hardened criminals and the nefarious influences of prison life could have a negative impact on the offenders and lead them into more serious drugs and crime.
On the other hand, he went on, with the proper guidance provided through rehabilitation, they could kick their drug habits and return to a clean way of life.
“I call on all Indonesians, including government officials, to take the same view and understanding of this issue,” he said.
The deputy justice minister previously said that more than 40 percent of the around 150,000 people in Indonesian prisons were there for drug offenses.
The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) has confirmed that jails are “overflowing” with drug offenders, the vast majority of them recreational users or addicts, and that a “misguided” law enforcement approach is to blame.
Comr. Gen. Anang Iskandar, the head of the BNN, said on Monday that the 2009 Anti-Narcotics Law contained a decriminalization article that recommended rehabilitation rather than jail for users, but that the prevailing law enforcement paradigm was to go tough on all drug offenders.
“Ordering rehabilitation for users is more appropriate, because being incarcerated doesn’t serve much of a deterrent effect for them,” he said.
He also said that poor public awareness of the law was a stumbling block, noting that it prescribed immunity from prosecution for drug users who turned themselves in voluntarily for rehabilitation.
“If they come forward with the intention of seeking medical treatment, then they won’t have to face any criminal charges,” Anang said.
Critics of the current approach to jailing all drug offenders point out that drug circulation is extremely high in the country’s notoriously lax prisons, and that inmates can more easily get access to drugs on the inside than outside.
Henry Yosodiningrat, the chairman of the National Anti-Drug Movement (Granat), said it was no secret that “drug dealing is rampant in 99.9 percent of prisons across the country.”
He said that with such a pervasive problem, there was no chance that drug offenders could ever kick their habits with a stint behind bars, and that if anything, jail time could exacerbate their drug use.
“I’ve asked the Justice Ministry repeatedly for an explanation for why there’s such a big problem with drug circulation in prisons,” Henry said on Sunday. “The wardens need to wake up to this problem if they don’t want their reputation to continue being tarnished.”
Sr. Comr. Sumirat Dwiyanto, a spokesman for the BNN, said there were an estimated four million drug users in Indonesia, of whom only around 18,000 had spent some time in a rehabilitation program.
He said that besides low awareness among both law enforcement officials and users about the option of rehabilitation, a key reason for the small number of people seeking treatment was the limited number of rehabilitation centers in the country.
He also said the number of drug users was growing daily, amid easier access to narcotics, much of them increasingly made inside the country.
In February, the BNN and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime released a report that said drug use in the country had reached “emergency proportions,” fueled in large part by the prevalence of amphetamine-type stimulants as the drug of choice.
The report estimated that about 60 percent of these drugs, notably methamphetamine, were produced domestically.