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“Society may judge what we did, but it cannot judge what we will become”: Providing a new chance to female prisoners in Indonesia

11 March 2020 – “It’s difficult when you’re in prison. Different people face different challenges, but for me, the toughest has been not being able to see my sons who live far away from here.” 43-year-old Lina has been in prison for several years but as she nears the end of her sentence in a few short months she is upbeat about returning home. “Often the only thing I, and the others I’m imprisoned with, know is crime – but now I am leaving with options.” Indeed, thanks to rehabilitation and reintegration projects such as those instituted by UNODC, Lina and her fellow inmates have hope for a new chance. 

This week in Indonesia, a new project was opened in the Semarang Female Correctional Facility, situated about 400 km’s east of the capital, Jakarta. Aimed at transferring knowledge around the ancient technique of batik dyeing, the idea is to train inmates with commercially viable skills that they can use post-release. 

“At some point, prisoners go home and they become part of society again. But too often they’re ill prepared for this and there can be a tendency to reoffend,” noted UNODC Indonesia country manager, Collie Brown, at the unveiling. “And so, while we know the rehabilitation of prisoners and their social reintegration is crucial, we find that resources are often not in place. This facility will go towards amending that.”

The project forms part of a wider approach being taken towards prisoner rehabilitation under UNODC’s Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration which in itself is designed to boost the rule of law. Under its prison component, the Global Programme has been working with national authorities across a number of continents to put in place a range of varied activities spanning vocational training and certification areas. This has included construction for female prisoners in Boliviabaking in Kyrgyzstan, the growing of hydroponics in Namibia, electrical installations in the State of Palestine, and cooking oil production in Zambia.

For Evy Harjono Amir Syamsudin, Executive Director and Founder of the Second Chance Foundation NGO in Indonesia with whom UNODC are working, prison administrations should be looking to correct a mindset, not simply punishing people for a crime. “No one truly wants to be an inmate. If we give a chance to someone in prison to be a better person in the future, the world will be a better, more peaceful place for all.”

This essential working together between prisoners, authorities and the general public is something echoed by the Government’s Senior Adviser to the Minister of Law and Human Rights and Officer-in-Charge of the Directorate General of Corrections, Nugroho: “Let's work together and support one another to foster inmates. Ultimately, their rehabilitation and reintegration rely on our care and attention. Hopefully, they will return to the community as good citizens and productive members of society.”

Including inmates in the steps towards their own rehabilitation, and ensuring this type of ownership, also came across in the initial stages of the project. In fact, the dyeing stamps used to create the outlines on the batik material were decided on following a competition held among the inmates in Semarang. Three patterns were ultimately chosen, each one representing something symbolic for the prisoners in order to ensure that what they interpreted as dear to them is reflected. As one inmate explains, her batik design is built around bird wings, “which symbolize our unlimited creativity and imagination that can still fly freely even if we are in prison.

As with all elements of the Global Programme’s work, sustainability is essential. To this end, a batik artist, Asih Yuliani, has been hired to work with the prisoners to teach them about this art. For Asih, however, this is more than a normal job as she herself is an ex-prisoner who was first exposed to batik production while serving a sentence in the Semarang Female Correctional Facility. “I left prison with a skill. Now I run my own business as well as I’m training others. When I first stepped back into this prison as a trainer I was apprehensive, but I also knew that I was free,” she explained. For her, being there and training others allows her to share a hope that many do not have: “If I can do it, anyone can.”

So, what’s next for Lina as she prepares to go home? “The training I’ve done not only helped me build a skill while inside but it also gave me a purpose. Once I leave here my dream is to start my own business and never, ever be apart from my sons again.”

Additional information

Second Chance Foundation

UNODC Indonesia

UNODC Prisoner Rehabilitation