Clean-up scheme signals new approach to overcrowded prisons

national June 11, 2015 01:00

By The Nation

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THE "big clean-up" at prisons around the country, currently housing over 300,000 inmates, will continue, Wittaya Suriyawong, head of the Corrections Department, said yesterday.

The plan is to improve living conditions at the prisons by making them cluster-free, preventing inmates from keeping unnecessary items, and searching for prohibited items.

In light of the Songkhla Prison riot on June 8 that resulted in the death of an inmate and injuries to several others, Wittaya said officials would segregate the ringleaders of the riot to face criminal punishment. Cell searches were part of the government’s policy to eradicate smuggled cell phones and drugs and it would proceed unabated, he confirmed.

Prison officers were instructed to explain to inmates that they were allowed to keep only one pair of shoes each and 3-5 sets of clothing – to prevent them keeping and selling things at inflated prices – and released individuals could not pass their belongings to other inmates, he said.

Wittaya cited a June 4 report that said 143 prisons nationwide housed 303,132 inmates – 259,398 male and 43,734 female – but each prison contained convicts beyond its capacity.

More than 15,000 new inmates were going in every month, while less than 12,000 convicts were being released, he said. As a result, prisons had to organise more recreational activities to lessen inmates’ stress and take their minds off the overcrowded conditions, which could potentially cause riots in the future.

Chanchao Chaiyanukit, deputy permanent secretary at the Justice Ministry, said the Songkhla riots were mainly the result of inmates being upset over the prison’s strict implementation of existing regulations, such as the ban on plastic bags, as well as the crowded conditions. He urged the relatives of inmates to understand that officials had not violated inmates’ rights and the rule imposed had long been in use.

Chanchao said 80 per cent of the 300,000 inmates were drug convicts. The ministry had formulated new legal measures against drug trafficking, to be submitted to the Cabinet mid- July.

The new bill would address three groups involved in drug crimes: the victims, drug abusers and retailers who would be rehabilitated and encouraged not to re-offend; the drug-trafficking labourers or drug mules; and the major drug dealers who were the law’s main target for arrest and eradication, he explained.