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Indonesia prosecutors urged to send people who use drugs to rehabilitation, not prison

Makassar (Indonesia), 18 October 2013
- Indonesia had an estimated 3.7-4.7 million people who used drugs in 2011, according to the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), which identified crystalline methamphetamine as the country's primary illicit drug of concern, followed by cannabis and ecstasy, another amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS). Of these users, BNN says, 18,000 have spent some time in drug rehabilitation programmes.

Despite a recommendation in Indonesia's 2009 Anti-Narcotics Law that people who use drugs be rehabilitated rather than sent to prison, Indonesian law enforcement continues to favor a tough approach on all drug offenders that has led to a rise in arrests - and to over-crowded prisons.

Arrests for methamphetamine use - primarily in crystalline form - increased to 15,766 in 2011, a three-fold rise from the 5,045 persons arrested in 2006. Crystalline methamphetamine now accounts for 61 per cent of drug-related arrests in Indonesia.

The BNN reports that jails are "overflowing" with drug offenders, the vast majority of them recreational or dependent people who use drugs. While in prison, most receive little or no effective treatment for their drug dependence, and may be exposed to high risk injecting drug use behaviors.

In response - and because prosecutors in Indonesia determine whether a person convicted for drug use is sent to prison or rehabilitation - Indonesia's Attorney General's Office (AGO) in February 2013 released new policies for prosecutors that recommended referring people convicted for drug use to medical and social rehabilitation centers rather than prison.

To raise prosecutors' awareness of the new policies, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid) collaborated with the Attorney General's Office (AGO) to conduct a series of 12 seminars across Indonesia.

Featuring speakers from the Indonesia National Police, the BNN, the AGO, the High Court, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Affairs and drug user networks, each seminar is attended by roughly 80 local prosecutors.

The diversion of drug offenders from the criminal justice system to treatment and care is contemplated in the International Drug Conventions and UNODC continues to advocate voluntary, evidence- and community-based treatment for people with drug use disorders.

"Drug treatment services for ATS users may be scaled up. Currently, the most common locations for treatment for ATS users in Indonesia are specialized drug treatment facilities, psychiatric clinics and general hospitals. The Government of Indonesia may consider initiating community-based and evidence-informed drug treatment for ATS users. More effective than compulsory treatment, community-based treatment provides people who use drugs with voluntary, cost-effective and sustainable drug treatment and rehabilitation and reintegration services," noted the February 2013 UNODC report, Indonesia Situation Assessment on Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (2013).

In March 2012, UNODC together with 11 other UN agencies, issued a Joint Statement calling on Member States to close compulsory detention and rehabilitation centers for illicit drug users.

"We need to help local and national-level authorities - especially law enforcement agencies - to develop a more accurate understanding of what drug dependence really is and how it is linked to health consequences like the risk of contracting HIV," said Juana Tomás-Rosselló, a medical doctor and UNODC drug treatment expert based at the UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok.