Nusakambangan Island Up Close


Easy access: A motorcyclist drives onto a ferry from Nusakambangan. The ferry line, owned by the penitentiary, serves prison officials, wardens and their families. JP/Agus Maryono
What do Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas, Imam Samudra, former president’s son Tommy Soeharto and timber tycoon Bob Hasan have in common?

They have all spent a little time behind bars in Nusakambangan Island’s renowned maximum-security prison facilities, although perhaps not under the same living conditions.

Nusakambangan is said to be the final abode for inmates serving prison terms of more than 5 years, including those found guilty of illicit drug trafficking and terrorism. More than 1,600 convicts of various classes and cases are now occupying this large penitentiary.
Never too late: Visitors flock to the gate of Pasir Putih penitentiary in Kambangan island in Central Java. A sign above the gate states: “They are not criminals, just lost people, and it is never too late to repent”. JP/Agus Maryono
Located 2 kilometers off the coast of Penyu Bay, Cilacap, Nusakambangan Island administratively belongs to the territory of Cilacap regency, Central Java. Judicially, it is under the Justice and Human Rights Ministry, and since Indonesia’s independence in 1945, permission of the ministry has been required for any activity on the island in view of its prison status.

In 1942, the Dutch East Indies governor made the island a restricted zone and used it exclusively for prisoners. However, Nusakambangan Island was already a place of confinement for forced labor under the colonial rule dating back to 1912.

Today, Nusakambangan is managed by the ministry’s director general of penitentiary affairs, who issues licenses to visitors. Entry to the island is granted with tight requirements, taking more than a month to process licenses even for media coverage purposes.

Even with entry licenses, visitors still face hundreds of security officers on guard. There is only one gate into the prison complex, at the Wijaya Pura Terminal, 1 kilometer south of Tanjung Intan Port, Cilacap.
Learning about the bees: Two prisoners learn how to breed honeybees at the penitentiary. JP/Agus Maryono
The penitentiary comprises seven jailhouses (LPs), which are 4 kilometers apart from one another. Divided into blocks with high walls and fences, each jailhouse is heavily guarded. The seven jailhouses are called LP Besi, LP Batu, LP Terbuka, LP Kembang Kuning, LP Permisan, LP Pasir Putih and LP Narkotik.
Central Java Justice and Human Rights Agency chief Chairudin Idrus said of the seven, LP Pasir Putih was the highest security prison.

“So we call it LP SMS or Super Maximum Security. Whoever enter this LP has to be searched, even ministers,” added Chaerudin. Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar, visiting LP Pasir Putih at the time, was also thoroughly searched at the entrance.
A new line of work: A prisoner at LP Terbuka looks after his vegetables in the prison backyard.JP/Agus Maryono
Chairudin pointed out that 1,650 convicts were imprisoned in the seven LPs, with 50 on death row and 52 serving life sentences. The most recent three subjected to capital punishment in Nusakambangan Island at the end of 2008 were the trio involved in the first Bali Bombing, Imam Samudra, Amrozi and Mukhlas. At least 200 people, mostly foreigners, were killed in the three bomb blasts in Denpasar in October 2002.

LP Terbuka or the open jailhouse differs from the other LPs. Inmates in this prison are free to roam and engage in activities around their blocks. Only those who have already served half their terms can be moved to LP Terbuka based on personal records. Jailhouse management encourage them to grow crops and raise cattle on farming land.

Chairudin stated there were 42 convicts in 10 barracks in LP Terbuka, and that five more barracks would be added to accommodate more inmates in 2011. Several other prisoners in Nusakambangan have access to sports facilities and TVs.
Reforming criminal minds: Prisoners learn how to draw batik on cloth. JP/Agus Maryono
Lately, LP Narkotik (narcotics jailhouse) dwellers have also been trained in bee keeping and batik handicraft making.

“We hope they will have new jobs as soon as they are released so they can break free from their drug addiction,” LP Narkotik chief Marwan told The Jakarta Post. He added that apart from honey production skills, they were taught about the benefits of bee stings for healing addiction.
“The method has been researched and tested. So they’re undergoing therapy with their own honeybees at the same time,” Marwan said.

Nusakambangan Island is around 30 kilometers long and has an average width of 7 kilometers. The island itself is also endowed with natural riches such as forests and has tourism potential, which has attracted people from different backgrounds. However, the island’s 12,000 hectares of forest have suffered considerable damage from illegal logging over the last 10 years.

Illegal island dwellers entering the island from a number of gates away from the penitentiary zone have reportedly destroyed up to 5,000 hectares of forests and rare trees. Up to 2,000 illegal squatters are said to cultivate farmland on Nusakambangan. Prison wardens reportedly gave them permission to enter the island. The problem persists with farmers free to roam the land.

Anybody can in fact enter Nusakambangan’s non-LP areas using a fishing boat and those wishing to spend some time on the white-sand Permisan Beach or the shores of Ranca Bababakan on the southern tip of Nusakambangan only need to pay Rp 10,000 (US$1) to reach the island from Penyu Bay.

Nusakambangan can also be reached through Kampung Laut, which is across a river. Now the 24th district with four villages, it is almost inseparable from Nusakambangan. Around 4,000 families living in Kampung Laut regularly visit the island searching for potable water or for farming. According to locals, convicts attempting to escape jailbreak are known to have passed through Kampung Laut.


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