Penal Populism and Biopolitics in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Indonesian Experience

Harison Citrawan, Research Agency under the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights; Sabrina Nadilla, Research Agency under the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights


Impacts and Responses in Indonesia and Timor-Leste


Prisoners are widely considered as one of vulnerable groups in time of pandemic. This nature of vulnerability has been the cause voiced by the Indonesian prison administration when invoking early release and parole to almost 40,000 prisoners during the outset of COVID-19 outbreak in the country. However, the policy was challenged by public’s receptivity on two crucial issues: fairness of the inmate selection and public security threat resulting from the decision. In this sense, the Indonesia’s experience in dealing with prisoners’ lives during the crisis depicts an explication of biopolitical practice; a power to organize and produce life of a population. Through the lens of biopolitics, in which the law works between government and discipline, this article suggests that during the pandemic, this technological power over bodies could be circumscribed by penal populism—leading a way to a new normal of undemocratic penal system. In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic is pivotal for discipline and punishment to consider the inclusive nature of democracy rather than enmeshed in a stigmatized, punitive culture.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |