At least 40 people have died and dozens were injured in a fire at a prison in Indonesia early Wednesday, calling attention to the problem of overcrowding in the Southeast Asian country’s jails.
Pictures showed orange body bags lined up on the floor of a morgue in Tangerang city, where the fire broke out after midnight while inmates were sleeping, in a section of the local prison housing drug-related offenders. Officials told local media that cells were locked at the time and many could not be rescued.
Grieving relatives and police officers gathered outside the facility in Banten province on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital Jakarta. As of late Wednesday morning the death toll stood at 41 people, according to reports.
The prison’s clinic treated 72 injured inmates, Jakarta’s Metro Police Chief Inspector was quoted saying in Kompas. “We’re still investigating the cause,” he said. The fire reportedly tore through the facility at around 1:45 a.m., and a team of firefighters successfully extinguished the flames at 3 a.m.
Citing data from September, Reuters reported that the prison had capacity for 600 inmates but held 2,000. There were 122 inmates in the prison block hit by the fire, a section meant to house 40 people, according to the BBC.
Officials are investigating what sparked the fire but suspect it was caused by a short circuit.
Monitors have long called on the government to reduce crowding in prisons, which were at more than double capacity early last year, Human Rights Watch has said.
Attempts to reduce the numbers by tens of thousands of people to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails helped but was not enough, according to the group.
“Police, prosecutors and judges don’t seem to care that the prisons are already overloaded. The Tangerang prison is an example,” said researcher Maidina Rahmawati in a statement from the independent Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
Translation contributed by Annisa Nurul Aziza.