NRC panel eyes rehabilitating not jailing drug offenders

national February 16, 2015 01:00

By NITIPOL KIRAVANICH
THE NATION

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THE NATIONAL REFORM Council (NRC) panel on legal and justice affairs is considering proposing the use of electronic monitoring devices as a state policy, as it may be a good method to rehabilitate wrongdoers and ease overcrowding in prisons, the panel's



This could be the most concrete reform put forward by this panel, which is one of the 18 NRC committees studying different areas of reform. 
“Wrongdoers and drug addicts need opportunities and one way of doing that would be to rehabilitate them so they function normally in society. The other would be to punish them with some sort of probation instead of put them behind bars,” Seree, who is also a legal expert, explained. 
He said existing laws cause problems or violate people’s rights, such as ones that punish wrongdoers more severely than they deserve. 
Amid mounting pressure from the |government, the panel has also promised that reform of the police and other legal entities should be clearer by the end of this month. 
The panel has held 14 meetings since it was set up in November last year.
Seree said his committee had been |meeting regularly to ensure the framework for legal and justice reform is completed this month and that it should present its “vision for the country’s future” by February 27. 
Earlier, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha and NRC chief Thienchay Kiranandana had voiced concern about the length of time each committee will spend on working on issues entrusted to them. 
They reasoned that a whole year was far too long for the job, and they are calling on the different committees to speed up the work.
As for the problem of overloaded prisons, the Department of Corrections has raised the issue before. There are approximately 324,000 prisoners when there is only enough space for 150,000 inmates behind bars, according to the department. Building new prisons would cost up to Bt1 billion, not to mention having to hire more prison officials and guards. 
Hence, Seree said, in some cases, using an electronic monitoring or tagging device may help ease the overcrowding issue as well as punish wrongdoers by putting them under probation rather than jailing them. But he said the monitoring devices could only be applied in cases that are not severe. 
Electronic monitoring devices are still being tried out in Thailand and if surveys show that this method works, then he would propose that it be made into a law. He also said there should be more electronic devices such as closed-circuit televisions (CCTV) installed across the country. 
“Prevention tactics can help reduce crimes. In the legal area we usually solve the problem after it takes place. 
“But a person planning to commit a crime might be deterred if they realise that they are being monitored. This way, criminal activities can be stopped before they take place,” he said. 
Another issue scrutinised by the panel was violations of the lese majeste law online. He said it was necessary to hunt people responsible for online posts that are considered defamatory to the monarchy and bring them to justice. 
He also said the panel had discussed and scrutinised the structure of the police department and how it can be reformed. They needed to be strengthened and made more independent.
“We have studied the police’s authority, because it has been questioned in the past. We have also discussed who should be responsible for investigating certain cases,” Seree said. In some cases it may be necessary for a prosecutor or attorney to help in order to promote fairness. 
Police should be strengthened and made more independent so other agencies cannot interfere. Also, he said, all appointments and transfers should be done transparently. 
Another issue was stating clearly what local police are authorised to do and what comes under their jurisdiction. 
“However, the authority of investigating cases should not come under their jurisdiction, because it is the authority of the national police department, which will be decentralised,” he said. 
The committee also recently discussed “dispute mediation and conciliation system”, Seree said, adding that these laws should be synchronised with legal organisations in order to promote better reform. 
When asked if the structure of courts should be reformed as well, Seree said courts have their own system of processing cases, adding that he was more concerned about the process of scrutinising cases. 
“There have been many complaints that courts like the Administrative Court take too long to process or pursue cases, so this process needs to be speeded up,” he said. 

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