JAKARTA: Indonesia’s overcrowded prisons are ill-equipped to deal with militant inmates, hampering efforts to prevent the spread of violent radicalism in institutions that have become known as extremist breeding grounds, a study has found.
The study by University of Indonesia psychologists, which adds to years of warnings by experts, found that prison staff lacked the ability to identify “high-risk” prisoners who could recruit other inmates as they were given limited information and specialist training.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has arrested and imprisoned hundreds of militants in a crackdown that followed a terror attack on the island of Bali in 2002.
But many remained committed to violent extremism, both during and after their incarceration, and used their time in prison to radicalise others.
The eight-month study at the four largest Indonesian prisons found that prison staff who had close contact with inmates did not know how to limit the influence of hardline ideologues or identify the less ideologically committed who could be disentangled with simple interventions, said Faisal Magrie, coordinator of the research released on Thursday.
“The problems in the prison system are often defeating efforts to turn convicted militants away from radicalism,” he said.
The challenges are exacerbated by poor coordination among government agencies and non-governmental organisations, which leads to duplicated efforts and unclear deradicalisation programmes, Magrie said.
Irfan Idris, director of deradicalisation at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, said at least 18 former prisoners were involved in extremist cases in Indonesia since 2010 and most were radicalised in prison.
Overpopulated prisons are the main reason deradicalisation efforts struggle, said Bahrul Wijaksana of Search for Common Ground, a US-based NGO that works with Indonesia’s directorate-general of corrections.
He said the 477 prisons in Indonesia, which were built to accommodate 115,000 inmates, hold 254,000 prisoners. In big cities, prisons are four to five times overcapacity. — AP
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