Fri, 12 Dec 2003

Juvenile learn crime in prison: Police

Dewi Santoso, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police are throwing their weight behind the revision of the country's juvenile justice system that will allow delinquent juveniles to avoid prison sentences as they believe prisons serve mostly as training grounds for children to become real criminals.

"Our observation shows that children who leave prisons usually become real criminals as they learn many things from their peers in prisons," National Police chief detective Comr. Gen. Erwin Mappaseng told a national seminar on juvenile justice here on Thursday.

Law No. 3/1997 on juvenile justice stipulates that child offenders aged between 12 years and 18 years of age can be sentenced to prison. The government, however, is seeking to amend the legislation, with a consideration to include chapters on diversion and restorative justice as alternatives to court and imprisonment.

The diversion program enables an out-of-court settlement to cope with juvenile delinquency and to bring them to organizations other than the court.

Restorative justice is an alternative to imprisonment, such as community-based victim-offender mediation, family-group conferences or reconciliation. This system can be developed within the traditional judicial system as long as it is in line with international human rights' standards.

A study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) revealed that 3,600 of 4,000 Indonesian children who went before the courts annually had to share their cells with adults, exposing them to torture and other abuse.

Erwin said the police could not afford to provide special penitentiaries for juveniles offenders, due to a lack of funds.

The study, conducted by UNICEF, found the conditions of children's detention centers and prisons "horrific".

"They were locked in over-crowded tiny cells with little, if any, access to health, education or leisure facilities. They were extremely vulnerable and at risk of abuse by other detainees, especially by adults, and also by law enforcement officials," UNICEF Representative in Indonesia Steven Allen told the seminar, jointly held by the UN body, the National Police and the Center for Human Rights Advocacy (Sentra-HAM).

He warned that 80 percent of first-time detainees would become recidivist, and would usually become a long-term burden to the society.

"Prison or detention centers are no place for children, who belong nowhere but in families, communities and schools," he said.

Harkristuti Harkrisnowo of the University of Indonesia agreed with Allen, saying that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), United Nations Resolution No. 40/33 on Nov. 29, 1985, on the minimum regulation standards on juvenile justice (also known as Beijing Rules) made it clear that children should be differentiated from adults.

"Law No. 23/2003 on child protection stipulates that arrest, criminal prosecution and detention should only be a last resort," said Harkristuti, who is also a member of the National Law Commission.

She asserted imprisonment would deprive children of their future.

"That's why we are asking the government to revise Law No. 3/1997 on juvenile justice, and adopt the diversion and restorative program," she said.