OVERCROWDING in Thai prisons has forced the Corrections Department to launch a policy of “light structure jails” or “pre-release prisons” with minimum-security zones.
These are being built at open prisons for good-behaviour inmates with less than six months to go on their jail terms.
“Light structure prison” zones are planned for 17 open or temporary prisons nationwide. Each would support around 500-1,000 inmates who would receive three months of training on vocational and social skills. These zones will be built mostly from cargo containers and require only six months to complete. They aim to better equip newly released prisoners – and prevent them from re-offending, said department chief Wittaya Suriyawong.
Some 150,000 inmates are released annually. To be considered for such zones, they must have served at least a third of their sentence, have behaved well and never breached prison rules.
Inmates with less than six months to serve are eligible for a “light structure prison”, Wittaya said.
The mixing up of inmates with different remaining terms has led to less effectiveness in inmate training for the outside world, he said. In the new zones, separated inmates about to be released keep to themselves and do training, which should yield better results.
Each new style prison zone comes with a three-layer barbed wire fence instead of the usual three-metre-tall reinforced fences. They will come with a vocational training hall and activity grounds, and cost Bt55 million to build, Wittaya said.
At one project-participating facility, Ban Noen Sung Open Prison in Prachin Buri, a pilot scheme has gathered 300 inmates for an intensive three-month preparatory course. The inmates were divided into groups that would rotate to various fields of the course, which were supported by local experts in each field. The Ban Noen Sung Open Prison plans to have two “light structure prison” zones on 11 rai of land.
An inmate who took the preparatory course for two months said he had been incarcerated in Prachin Buri Provincial Prison for more than two years before the transfer to Ban Noen Sung. “Here is a far cry from the provincial prison, where all you can see is the high fences and sky. Here it has a better view and less stress,” he said. The course also taught inmates many things including emotional control and how to behave around others, as well as vocational training in various fields depending on each prisoner’s interest. “I chose to learn how to fix cars because I had some basic knowledge prior to this, so I will open a garage after my release,” he added.
There are 17 prisons in this project. In the North they are: Nakhon Sawan’s Nong Nam Khun Open Prison, Phrae’s Huai Ma Temporary Prison, Phayao’s Rongha Temporary Prison, Lampang’s Pong Yang Kok Temporary Prison, Sukhothai’s Nong Riang Temporary Prison and Phetchabun’s Khae Noi Temporary Prison.
In the Northeast they are: Nakhon Ratchasima’s Khao Phrik Agriculture Industry Prison, Roi Et’s Rob Muang Temporary Prison, Buri Ram’s Khok Matum Temporary Prison and Kalasin’s Khok Kham Moung Temporary Prison.
Facilities in the East are: Rayong’s Huai Pong Open Prison, Chanthaburi’s Thung Benja Open Prison, Prachin Buri’s Ban Noen Sung Open Prison, and Rayong’s Khao Mai Kaew Temporary Prison. In the South: Phatthalung’s Ban Na Wong Open Prison, Chumphon’s Huai Klang Temporary Prison, and Phetchaburi’s Khao Kling Temporary Prison.
Justice Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya announced the new prison policy on Wednesday. He said it highlighted how the Corrections Department’s old image of being a “twilight zone in which criminals passed trade knowledge” would be solved by the re-arrangement of facilities.
In the future the system would consist of maximum-security prisons, those with moderate security, plus open or temporary prisons that would feature the light structure prison zones. He said inmates would be selected by the Probation Department system, which supports up to 400,000 inmates a year. It has a “flight rate” of up to 50,000. Paiboon also affirmed there was no policy for new prisons because that would cost up to Bt70 billion and he disagreed with having more prisons. Preventing people from committing crime was a better and clearer solution. He said the Probation Department’s role would be more prominent in the justice system, as offenders would face alternate measures than jailing.