PADANG, West Sumatra — Scandals continue to plague Indonesia’s penal system. In 2010, people were shocked to learn that Artalyta Suryani, a socialite and lobbyist who was serving a five-year sentence for bribing a senior prosecutor, had a spacious 64-square-meter room all to herself complete with amenities one might usually find in a five-star hotel — air conditioning, leather couch, work desk and a computer — in the Pondok Bambu Women’s Penitentiary in East Jakarta.

Also in 2010, graft suspect Gayus Halomoan Tambunan, despite his high-profile case, bribed the prison warden and guards in exchange for a weekend break privilege to attended a tennis tournament in Bali.

And now in 2011, prosecutors, an attorney and a prison employee have been implicated in a convict’s scheme to have someone else serve her sentence at Bojonegoro prison in East Java. The inmate-swap case emerged after a Bojonegoro inmate thought to be Kasiem, a graft convict, was discovered to be a person named Karni, who was allegedly paid 10 million rupiah ($1,100) to serve Kasiem’s 3 1/2-month sentence.

This case reflects a total breakdown in Indonesia’s judicial and legal system. In no other modern democracy would this incident have been allowed. It calls for a total revamp of a system that is clearly broken.

The police should also get to the bottom of the affair and find all those involved in this scheme, starting with the two women, the convict’s lawyer, the prosecutors and prison officials who were supposed to detain her. It is good that Attorney General Basrief Arief fired the Bojonegoro Prosecutor’s Office head Wahyudi, the office’s special crimes division head, Hendro Sasmito, prosecutor Tri Murwani, and Bojonegoro Penitentiary guard Widodo Priyono for their involvement in the case.

The case also reflects the paucity of the country’s value system. The woman who was willing to serve jail time for someone else’s crime did so to help clear her debts. The prison authorities allowed it to happen, most probably because they were paid off as well. And the woman who was convicted and sentenced to seven months in prison was able to get off scot-free, making a mockery of the country’s judicial system.

The three prison scandals involving Artalyta Suryani, Gayus Tambunan and Kasiem suggest that prison no longer serves as a deterrence that encourages inmates to return to the right path. Instead, prison has become a school of crime for criminals.

The scandals confirmed the public suspicion of the special treatment unfairly and illegally given to certain suspects and convicts, which may have been rampant inside the Mobile Brigade detention center and perhaps in other penitentiaries.

For the National Police, its responsibility must not be limited to punishing those responsible for facilitating the inmates, but also allowing an oversight mechanism to make sure all detainees and prisoners stay put until they complete their terms. Without such transparency, the detention center will be regarded as nothing more than a safe haven for high-profile criminals.

Many Indonesians are angry that prisoners convicted of corruption and drug offenses are being treated with kid gloves when other prisoners have to share a cell with 20 other inmates.

Amnesty International said in a 2008 report that Indonesian detention facilities and prisons often do not meet the United Nations minimum rules on the treatment of prisoners. It said that torture and other forms of ill treatment also occurs in detention centers.

The cases indicate that many inmates are still in control of allegedly ill-gotten assets that are used to pay bribes. Gayus reportedly disbursed 368 million rupiah to the prison warden and guards. It makes sense to assume that a graft suspect such as Gayus, who has spent $2 million to pay police detectives, prosecutors and a judge for his acquittal early in 2010, proved to keep much more money in store.

The case of Artalyta Suryani is similar to that of Gayus. Despite serving her five-year sentence, she apparently continues with her corrupt practices, paying off the prison guards to ensure that she has the amenities she was used to on the outside. She is even allowed to run her business from inside prison, with her clients and employees visiting and reporting to her on a daily basis. The Justice and Human Rights Ministry defended its decision to let her manage her business because she employs 85,000 people. Whatever happened to the principle of equality before the law?

These prison scandals indicate the state of the nation’s corruption eradication efforts of the last dozen years. The fact that the scandals implicate people who are entrusted to enforce the law only underlines the ugly fact that the country’s drive against graft has been facing resistance from individuals, if not institutions, mandated to uphold justice. The cases are a testament to the need to find a broom to sweep away the corruption mess.

Donny Syofyan is a Jakarta Post columnist and a lecturer at Andalas University, Indonesia (kokom_97@yahoo.com).

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