COVID-19: Indonesian police deny higher crime rate solely due to release of prisoners to curb outbreak
JAKARTA: Indonesian housewife Lila Kusumah, 37, is worried about her family's safety after several houses nearby were said to have been robbed this month.
The security guards in her neighbourhood in South Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, claimed that about 10 people have been arrested.
Residents were also told that the alleged perpetrators were among the 38,000 convicts released from overcrowded jails nationwide in early April to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Upon hearing these, Mdm Kusumah is taking extra precautions to safeguard her house.
“At night I used to ask my eldest son to lock the gate, but now I do it myself to be really sure it is locked tightly,” she said.
“I’m now very vigilant. Every time I have to go out (on my motorbike), I always look at the rear view mirrors to make sure no one is following me."
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Early last week, Indonesia’s national police spokesman Grand Commissioner Asep Adi Saputra said there had been an 11.8 per cent increase in crime rate in the country during the first two weeks of April.
“In week 15 (of 2020) there were 3,423 cases and in week 16, there were 3,827 cases,” he told CNA.
Crimes committed were largely theft such as motor vehicle theft.
Another police spokesman Brigadier General Argo Yuwono revealed on Tuesday (Apr 21) in a press conference that 28 ex-convicts have committed crimes after their release, although he clarified the next day that not all of them were recently released from jail this month.
He added that the police have taken preventive measures such as patrolling and guarding certain areas to deter crime.
However, the police said the release of prisoners is not the only factor contributing to the higher crime rate. At the meantime, non-governmental organisations also urged the government to look into ensuring social support for these ex-convicts, so that they do not return to the path of crime while trying to fend for themselves.
EX-CONVICTS NOT THE ONLY FACTOR FOR INCREASE IN CRIME: POLICE
The government has granted the early release of about 38,000 convicts as of Apr 28 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons in Indonesia.
Only those who committed general crimes and juvenile inmates who have served at least two-thirds of their sentence were set free.
In capital Jakarta, about 2,000 prisoners were discharged.
The Indonesian police have acknowledged that the release of these convicts may have led to the increasing crime rate, but stressed it is not the only contributing factor.
“The rise and fall of crimes are influenced by many important factors. The prevention and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Indonesia do not only have an impact on formal workers but also informal workers ... especially those who have lost their income,” said the head of the national police security maintenance agency Commissioner General Agus Andrianto.
He noted that it is especially important for social aid to be distributed quickly to ensure the livelihood of everyone, not just former convicts.
“There are also people who take advantage of the situation when all are focused on handling the spread of COVID-19,” Commissioner General Andrianto said.
He added that to prevent crime, the police are also educating people on how to spend their time at home and coordinating with local head villagers to create work programmes. The police also encourage people who are not economically affected by the pandemic to help those who cannot fulfil their basic needs.
To ensure that they do not turn to crime again, authorities are using online methods to guide and supervise them, said Andika Dwi Prasetya, head of the correction facilities of the Law and Human Rights Ministry for the Jakarta region.
The ex-convicts and their family members must be contactable any time, Mr Prasetya explained.
“If we lose contact with them, our officers from the correctional centres will immediately go to their places of residence,” he told CNA.
The department also liaised with relevant parties such as the police to help supervise the former prisoners.Authorities are cautious and firm, Mr Prasetya added.
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“If they do commit crime again we will send them back to jail to serve their remaining sentence, and there will be a tougher sentence.
“Of course we will also process the new crime,” Mr Prasetya said.
He hoped the public understand the government's purpose of releasing the inmates amid the COVID-19 outbreak. If people chance upon these ex-convicts committing crime, they should immediately inform the ministry's office in their respective neighbourhoods, he added.
ENSURE ACCESS TO SOCIAL SUPPORT
Mdm Lies Marcoes, the director of Rumah Kitab, a non-governmental organisation focusing on research and advocacy for minority and marginalised groups, said even under normal circumstances, crime prevention efforts need to address the root causes such as social inequality.
“Now in the abnormal situation due to COVID-19, extra measures are needed. Law enforcement efforts and crime prevention must be raised by increasing the number of officers in crime hotspots and intensifying self-protection campaigns," she said.
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Mdm Marcoes added that the government must ensure people have access to food and other basic needs such as water and electricity.
“Equally important is the availability of jobs without stigma even in the midst of a job crisis. The point is that the state must boost its effort to protect citizens from criminals who take advantage of the current vulnerable situation,” she said.
Mr Prasetya, head of Jakarta's correction facilities, said the department is arranging for these ex-convicts to be part of the government's social aid programmes, so that they can receive assistance immediately.
Full access to income support, social services and medical care will keep the ex-prisoners out of trouble, the Indonesia director of Amnesty International Usman Hamid told CNA.
“The government also has the obligation to make sure that equal access for COVID-19 related programmes such as income support is given to people with certain vulnerabilities, especially those who have just lost their daily income and jobs amid their limited access to social services and medical healthcare,” he said.
The government must also work with civil societies and organisations that have been working on prison reforms, Mr Hamid added.