BANGKOK – On May 15, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will ceremoniously undo the shackles on some prisoners in a move to improve the rights of inmates.
Some 500 of the 800 prisoners on death row have been chosen to benefit from this landmark leniency scheme introduced by the Corrections Department.
The move was initiated by the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), which has been praised by the Independent National Rule of Law Commission (NRLC) for making moves to comply with international standards on human rights.
Those who will benefit from this are inmates on death row as well as those facing death under lower-court rulings, but still awaiting a final verdict from the Supreme Court.
High-profile convicts, among them are former Army major Chalermchai Matchaklam, who was convicted of killing a provincial governor in a high-profile murder case; and notorious hit man Wisit Phuengrassamee, who ran a network of gun-for-hire rackets.
However, Justice for Peace Foundation chairwoman Angk-hana Neelaphaijit said this scheme only favored certain groups of inmates and for it really to work, it should be applied to inmates shackled in other prisons as well.
She said the government should make this scheme part of its policy and that it was not necessary to turn it into a big ceremony with Yingluck in attendance.
One of the TRCT’s proposals has already been put into practice, with political detainees or red-shirt protesters arrested in 2010 being moved to detention facilities.
The NRLC’s suggestion about putting inmates on house arrest by having them wear tracking devices is being pursued by the Corrections Department.
CORRECTIONS: Prisons found to be bulging at the seams, research finds by Lamphai Intathep
Thailand’s prisons are bulging at the seams with more than double their holding capacity. a problem the Corrections Department is far from solving, new research has found.
Danthong Breen, chairman of the inmate rights protection activist group Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), said some 224,300 inmates were currently doing time in 143 prisons throughout the country which have a total capacity of just 105,748.
“This means that Thailand’s prisons are the eighth-most crowded in the world,” he said. He also said that the problem of overcrowding was worse in prisons for women.
Even though the Corrections Department regulations require that each inmate have 2.25 square meters of space in a cell, under the current circumstances they only have 1.1 square meters or less.
Strikingly, the current overcrowding has not surged to record levels. That was reached back in 2001 and 2002 when the country’s prisons housed 250,000 inmates.
The information on the prison population was the result of a research project conducted by UCL and Thammasat University’s Research Centre on Criminology and Justice.
Thailand has the second-largest inmate population in Southeast Asia, behind only Singapore. The kingdom’s prison population is the 25th largest in the world.
The researchers found that overcrowding was the result of three factors – people being held while awaiting trial, too severe penalties, and a lack of other forms of penalties.
Researchers also conducted in-depth surveys and interviews at Bang Kwang Prison in Bangkok and the Central Women’s Prison of Chiang Rai.
At Bang Kwang Prison, cells measuring 6×8 metres housed up to 43 inmates – equating to prisoners having only 0.7 to 0.8 sq m space apiece.
Also, death row inmates are chained all the time despite the fact that the prisons in which they are housed are high security.
Despite the crowding, researchers found that overall conditions in Bang Kwang have improved over the years with a lower incidence of violations. Still, human rights violations are a regular occurrence.
Inmates who were interviewed said they would like to see improvements in the food they are served, better lavatories and shower facilities, opportunities to work and receive wages, and to be given access to educational programs.
The use of physical and psychological torture on death row inmates should be stopped, and, more importantly, the death penalty should be abolished without any conditions, the researchers opined.
Even worse crowding was found in the central women’s prison in Chiang Rai where cells measuring 12×19 meters hold on average 180 to 200 inmates and 6×8-metre cells hold 90 to 100 women. The figures are so high because of the large number of illegal foreign workers being held there.
“Women prisoners are unlike men because they endure bad conditions and do not complain,” Mr Danthong Breen said.
Researchers recommended using other forms of punishment such as fines and repatriation, instead of incarceration.
In addition, up to 90% of prisoners are young people and workers who have committed minor crimes. That prison population should be separated and sent for rehabilitation, fined, or sentenced to public service instead, they recommended.
Thanadech Khantanachot, consultant to the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, an activist group, and ex-prisoner at Bang Kwang Prison, said convicts had already been judged and punished by the courts, but they were punished a second time by human rights violations in the jails