Notes from the Field

How an Electronic Database is Dramatically Reforming Indonesia’s Prisons

April 3, 2013

Kiki, a registrations clerk at Cipinang Prison in Jakarta, glanced at his pile of paperwork with a degree of resignation. It was April 2009, and he was responding to three summons letters from the prosecutor’s office and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for 92 inmates to appear in court the next day. Kiki first had to verify the names against the hard copy prison register of 2,800 inmates. He then needed to locate each detainee’s file, record in a log book the court hearing that they were due to attend, and manually print temporary release letters for the warden to sign. While late in the afternoon, Kiki still had 60 files to go before he could call it a day.

Four years ago, cumbersome procedures were the norm in Indonesia’s 420 prisons. While the country hardly has a reputation for bureaucratic efficiency, its prisons – still following administrative procedures largely established during the Dutch colonial period – had a particular knack for generating paperwork.

The system required prisons to submit 23 forms every month to a provincial office, which verified and consolidated data from up to 63 prisons, which was then submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, which in turn passed data on to its Directorate General of Corrections. The former Director General of Corrections (DGC), Untung Sugiyono, claimed that even a simple count of all inmates in the prison system would take three months if it was to be accurate. When he eventually got the information he requested, it was already out of date.

For the past four years, the corrections system has implemented a major reform program, a central feature of which has been a radical overhaul of administrative procedures through the introduction of an electronic database system. The database enables computerized sentence calculation, automatic overstay reminders, electronic storage of fingerprint information, and other computer-generated reports. Data from across the country can also be accessed from the DGC’s headquarters.

Prison registration in a Jakarta prison

A prison warden records information about a new inmate into the electronic database system. By March 2013, the system covered 417 prisons (94.5% of total prisons) and housed data for 150,689 inmates (97.9% of total inmate population).

The impact has been dramatic. Instead of waiting months for reports, corrections authorities can access prisoners’ information, including cell assignment, in close to real time. To respond to the daily requests for information on particular inmates, staff no longer have to dig out individual paper files but can quickly access electronic records to respond to queries from other government agencies. Calculation of release dates, including adjustments for sentence reductions, is now computerized, which has greatly improved efficiency. Automatically generated reminders let officials know when prisoners are eligible for parole, or are nearing their release date, so that they are not imprisoned longer than their sentence period. A self-service kiosk allows prisoners to access their own basic files, including their release date, using their fingerprint.

Now, when Kiki prepares inmates for court visits, he quickly utilizes the database to generate an official “temporary release letter.” And when inmates return from court, he checks them back in by simply clicking a box to update their files. Now, checking in 92 inmates takes Kiki little more than 15 minutes. Under the old paper-based system, he would still be going after a couple of hours.

While the database pilot was initially donor funded and supported by The Asia Foundation, early results were impressive enough that the ministry began expanding its installation using state funds. In 2010, state funds were used to expand the system to 18 large prisons, and it proved so successful and efficient that many prisons started finding funds in their own budgets to purchase the needed computer equipment themselves. By September 2012, roughly 143 prisons were online. By March 2013, the system covered 417 prisons (94.5% of total prisons) and housed data for 150,689 inmates (97.9% of total inmate population).

The database includes an SMS-based mechanism, whereby each warden submits a daily head count of inmates, categorized by sex, adult/juvenile, and type of crime committed, to a phone number connected to the DGC server. An application recapitulates the information and sends it via SMS to corrections leadership and the Deputy Minister of Justice. This SMS feature has allowed members of government, parliament, media, and the public to access basic demographic information about the prison population. The data also enables better planning and oversight, as it can be used to assess programs, budgets, and human resource allocations proposed by directorates and prisons. Advocates and corrections officials have used the data to make a data-driven case for increased budget allocations. For example, readily available and accurate data on prison overcrowding can be used to support requests for prison construction.

The database and SMS system have also significantly improved transparency in the prison system. General data on Indonesia’s corrections facilities is now publically available online and is updated daily.

The changes have been tremendous, but they are hardly a panacea for the corrections system’s multiple and complex problems. Overcrowding rates remain as high as 400 percent in some prisons, and conditions are often lacking, including access to clean water and sanitation. Security concerns like gang violence are a threat, and corruption is endemic. The challenge is now for the corrections system to optimize the use of this data to further increase administrative efficiency and improve the welfare of inmates.

Leo Sudaryono is The Asia Foundation’s law programs coordinator in Indonesia and can be reached at lsudaryono@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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