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Deadly Uprising by ISIS Followers Shakes Indonesia’s Prison System

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By Thursday morning, all 155 terrorism detainees were being transported under heavy guard to the maximum security prison island of Nusakambangan, off the south coast of Java Island, where the authorities separate high-risk prisoners from each other.

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, speaking at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Thursday, said the government and public “will never be afraid and will never give room for terrorism and actions that will disrupt the country’s security.”

However, the Indonesian authorities apparently did not see or heed warnings about the police detention center’s vulnerability. In February, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a Jakarta-based research organization, warned in a report that the detention center was “a disaster waiting to happen” because of overcrowding in the detainee blocks. It also said there was no effort to offer counseling against violent extremist ideology to new arrivals.

In a 2016 report, the institute had warned that despite some small successes by the Indonesian government in managing extremist prisoners, “structural problems of the prison system and inadequate staff continue to defeat efforts at deradicalization, disengagement and rehabilitation.”

Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute of International Peace Building, which works to reintegrate former convicted terrorists back into Indonesian society, said the police detention center suffered from the same problems plaguing hundreds of state prisons across the country: overcrowding, lack of infrastructure to monitor high-risk detainees, and a shortage of human resources.

“Inmates always find ways to smuggle phones in, therefore they could live-stream the incident and mobilize support from outside the prison,” he said.

Asked whether terrorist detainees among those involved in this week’s uprising could ever be rehabilitated, Mr. Ismail said: “Well, at least we can disengage them from violence, but it will take a very long time to deradicalize them.”


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