Thailand’s prisons fail to meet international standards, with inmates routinely shackled, stuffed into overcrowded cells and forced to work in harsh conditions, a global human rights group said yesterday.
Thailand also has the highest incarceration rate in Southeast Asia, jailing 425 out of every 100,000 people, according to the report by the International Federation for Human Rights.
There are more than 260,000 inmates in 148 prisons with an originally estimated capacity of less than 120,000, the report said, with the massive overcrowding forcing the inmates to live in harsh conditions.
Most inmates were convicted on drug-related charges, the legacy of a war on drugs launched by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003. Under Thai law, possession of heroin or methamphetamine is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The overcrowded conditions are made worse by the high turnover among guards, forcing prisons to rely on skeleton staffs, the Paris-based human rights group said.
Prisoners told interviewers from the rights group that overworked guards would beat them with clubs, throw them in solitary confinement, or keep them chained and shackled for weeks, despite government initiatives in 2013 to end the practice.
With too many prisoners, inmates can find themselves stuffed into packed cells with no beds and squat toilets with no enclosures for privacy. At night, they lie pressed against each other on mats on bare linoleum floors.
The prisons have medical clinics, but at one Bangkok prison inmates say they are treated by “two-minute doctors” because they rush through the medical checks.
Inmates work seven days a week, sewing, folding paper and fixing shoes, earning as little as US$0.23 a day, the report said.
“The claim made by the Thai government that the country’s prison conditions conform with international standards is ludicrous,” said Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the rights group.
Prison conditions violate various UN treaties barring torture and stipulating minimum prisoner rights that Thailand ratified decades ago, the group said.
Government agencies involved in justice and narcotics issues say they are working to ease the problems.
“We’re trying to fix it,” Corrections Department Director Kobkiat Kasiwiwat said. “They’re in the process of fixing drug laws to have milder punishments and push people towards rehab more, instead of throwing them in prison.”
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