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Prison for wealthy Indonesians puts Club Fed to shame

Wealthy Indonesian convicts can purchase prison cell upgrades, an investigation at a women’s prison in Indonesia found last month. Amenities range from air conditioning to maid service.

By Contributor / February 18, 2010

In this Jan. 10 photo, Artalyta Suryani, a corruption convict serving a five year prison sentence for bribing an Indonesian prosecutor, sits in her well-appointed room during a raid by the anti-judicial mafia task force at Pondok Bambu prison in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Media Indonesia, Ramdani/AP/File


Jakarta, Indonesia

On one side of the prison cell stood a flat-screen TV. Children’s toys and leather sofas gave a homey feel to the quarters cooled by softly blowing air conditioning.

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As anti-corruption inspectors from the president’s office toured Pondok Bambu women’s prison in Jakarta last month, they tallied at least three cells similarly decked out for their A-list occupants, mostly wealthy Indonesian businesspeople.

The crime that put them there in the first place? Bribery.

While the days of the low security American "Club Feds" -- where so-called white collar criminals whiled away their sentences on tax-payer funded tennis courts -- are long gone, special treatment for those with money, whatever their crimes, remains the order of the day in Indonesia. Mohammed "Bob" Hasan, the golfing buddy of former President Suharto who amassed a fortune worth billions thanks to Suharto's patronage, spent tens of thousands of dollars improving the amenities at his prison after his corruption conviction following Suharto's downfall.

News of the five-star accommodations scandalized Indonesians and was a stark reminder of the graft and inequality that pervade the world’s third-largest democracy.

In Indonesia wealthy convicts can buy anything from room upgrades to sex workers to early release, advocates for prison reform say, while ordinary inmates endure cramped cells and physical abuse.

“If you have money, you get good services. If you don’t you get locked up for stealing cocoa pods,” says Chris Green, who is consulting for Indonesia’s Corrections Department on how to operate more efficiently. He was referring to recent cases in which Indonesians were locked up for several weeks for stealing handfuls of food.

The report on the women’s prison in late January dealt another blow to the government of President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono, which is already fighting to preserve the credibility of an anticorruption drive that was launched in recent years and has suffered a string of scandals.

Padding a meager income

One reason for prison corruption is low pay among law enforcers says Patra Zen, chairman of the Jakarta-based Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (known here as YLBH), which connects legal aid groups operating throughout the country. Most wardens and other high-ranking officials only make about $270 a month, compared with the $1,850 that state officials earn and Jakarta’s $115 minimum wage.