JAKARTA, Jan 7 - When Kasiem, a 55-year-old Indonesian woman, was condemned to seven months in prison she decided she would prefer not to serve the sentence. So she hired someone else to go to jail on her behalf.
Kasiem was convicted of selling government-subsidised fertiliser, a crime in Indonesia, but during her transfer to prison swapped places with Karni, a 50-year-old widow to whom she allegedly paid 10 million rupiah (1,100 dollars).
It is the latest in a series of prison corruption scandals that have activists calling for deep reforms.
The case was uncovered last week when one of Kasiem’s neighbours went to visit her in jail only to be presented with the impostor.
Kasiem was arrested and taken to prison to start her sentence for real the following day, while Karni — both women use only one name — has yet to be charged.
Erna Ratnaningsih, director of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, said it was unlikely the incident at Bojonegoro Penitentiary in East Java province was a first for Indonesia.
“The prison system here is very weak, both for its administration and monitoring. How could somebody who was not a convict be able to break into a prison?” she asked.
“The prisons are like an independent country of their own. It’s hard for any outside bodies to do any inspections there,” she told AFP.
Comprehensive prison reform including better monitoring and coordination was essential, she said, but added that a “legal mafia” — corrupt officials ranging from members of the police and prosecutors to judges — could peddle influence and turn justice upside down for the highest bidder.
“It’s just hard to boil down the problem into just one side as there is the existence of the legal mafia,” she said. “We suspect that the officials were involved there.”
A spokesman for the government’s Directorate General of Prisons, Chandra Lestiono, admitted that there were loopholes in the administration.
“We realise the system is not perfect,” he said, adding that high-tech improvements would help.
“Our database system is still manual. We need to build an integrated online database system from the police all the way to the prisons.”
But whether such technical changes would address the underlying issue is far from clear. Corruption is rampant in Indonesia, which scored only 2.8 out of 10 in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010.
The prisoner swap incident was only the latest example of influential or well-off inmates being able to buy their way out or furnish their cells as lavishly as they wish.
Former tax official Gayus Tambunan, who was supposedly being held in custody while standing trial for corruption, was able to leave and return to prison at will.
In November he was spotted at a tennis tournament on the holiday island of Bali, and police said nine officers were suspected of taking bribes ranging from 700 to 7,000 dollars to let him slip in and out of jail.
Businesswoman Artalyta Suryani, convicted in 2009 of bribing prosecutors, was undergoing a laser beauty treatment in prison when she was interrupted by officials from Yudhoyono’s Task Force for Legal Mafia Eradication on a snap inspection.
They found her incarcerated in an apartment-style 690-square-foot (64-square-metre) cell complete with air conditioning, a double bed, flat-screen television, refrigerator, private kitchen and bathroom, and a playpen for children. - AFP