THAILAND is the first country in the world to embrace the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules to improve the quality of life of prisoners, with Thon Buri Remand Prison chosen as the pilot prison.
The Corrections Department and Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) launched the one-year pilot project at the remand prison in Bangkok’s Bang Bon district on Tuesday.
The fundamental principles of Nelson Mandela Rules include the protection of human rights and dignity of inmates, abolition of torture and inhumane punishment, and overall good treatment of prisoners.
It is the first code of good practice in the treatment of prisoners in 60 years. The last major UN revision was the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners in 1957. The rules are named after former South African president and prominent human rights defender Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid.
The new rules will guide and improve prison management, said Somchai Sianglai, adviser to the minister of justice. Introducing best practices would not only benefit the inmates, but also help improve the reputation and performance of the Thai justice system, he added.
“We are proud that Thailand is the first country in the world to adopt this new standard of good prison management. It will benefit all of us, not just the prisoners, to improve the quality of life of the inmates and help them learn to come back to society as good people,” Somchai said.
TIJ director Kittipong Kittayarak noted that Thailand has the potential to improve prison management to meet the new UN standard, despite existing problems in the corrections system.
“There are problems in our correction systems, such as overcrowded prisons, poor quality of life of the inmates, and improper practices and punishment of prisoners. However, the UN’s Nelson Mandela Rules can help solve these problems and can return the prisoner back to society as a good person,” Kittipong said.
The old way of using punishment to shame prisoners had been proven not to transform criminals, said Kittipont. Instead, understanding and providing opportunities to help prisoners was the right way to proceed.
“Despite Thailand still facing an increasing number of prisoners, which has led to a problem of even more severely overcrowded prisons, we can improve the quality of life and protection of human rights and dignity of inmates,” he said.
Kittipong said that Thailand was already drafting new rules for prisons when it chose to be the first country to implement the Nelson Mandela Rules. As well, he noted, Thailand has a good reputation due to the Bangkok Rules for managing female inmates, which the international community has applauded.
Aryut Sinthopphan, the Corrections Department deputy director-general, said the Thon Buri Remand Prison, with its 5,726 inmates, was an ideal choice.
“During the one-year pilot project, the policy’s implementation within Thon Buri Remand Prison will be monitored and assessed to be a guideline for the other prisons in the country,” Aryut explained.
“Meanwhile, this prison will be made the learning centre for staff from other prisons to learn about UN Nelson Mandela Rules. If the implementation is a success, we will expand this project to the other prisons in Thailand.”