BANGKOK – With nearly 400,000 people behind bars, conditions in Thailand’s prisons are getting extremely over crowded.Nearly 70 percent of the inmates are jailed for drugs offenses.
Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) are now considering other options. For convicts facing jail terms of less than five years.
The issue was discussed at the “Criminal Punishments and National Human Rights Principles” seminar in Bangkok this week.
TIJ director Kittipong Kittayarak said Thai prisons, are the sixth most populated in the world and the highest in ASEAN. Prisons have space for only 120,000 inmates, but are housing more than 300,000 prisoners.
“Although Thailand has the largest number of inmates among Asean countries, this does not mean it has the highest crime rate. Instead, this reflects some problems in the justice procedure.
The increase in the number of inmates stems from the amendment to the drug law, which has become so strict that anybody in relation to methamphetamine lands in jail.
Drug offenders account for 70 per cent of the men in prison and 87 per cent of women. Also, 20 per cent of the inmates are in remand pending trial,” Kittipong told the Nation.
Of the prisoners whose cases have been finalized, 50 per cent are those facing terms of less than five years, Kittipong added.
Each year, the government allocates Bt12 billion to the Corrections Department, of which Bt8 billion is spent on food.
Also, he said, that though statistics show that 30 per cent of released inmates recommit crimes, this does not mean that the Corrections is doing a bad job.
“The problems we are facing don’t just stem from the Corrections Department, but the whole justice system,” he said.
Lack of Rehabilitation Programs to Tackle the Drug Problems
In 2000 and 2001, the problem of overcrowding had been solved by moving drug abusers to drug rehabilitation centers, he said. Which reduced the number of inmates from 240,000 to 160,000.
However, the lack of rehabilitation programs to tackle the drug problem has let the issue emerge again.
The problem of overcrowding can be solved if the authorities shift their focus from throwing people behind bars to rehabilitation. Drug users and small-time dealers need to be separated from the major drug traffickers.
Police and public prosecutors need to find a better method of settling cases out of court. Methods such as electronic monitoring devices, probation or social service for petty criminals.
More than a decade after Thailand declared a “war on drugs”, the country is admitting defeat. As the prison population soars. Changes are desperately need to fix the country’s draconian drug laws.
Downgrading “meth”, from a Category 1 substance, which would reduce jail time for minor possession.
Use of methamphetamine is spiraling across Southeast Asia, and authorities are struggling to respond.
Overall, supply of methamphetamine, is at a record level, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.