Thailand’s ongoing failure to enact comprehensive prison reforms has created conditions for human rights violations to be rife in its prison system, FIDH and UCL said in a new report published today. The report, titled “Behind the walls – A look at prison conditions in Thailand after the coup,” documents how conditions in prisons examined by FIDH and UCL are in breach of Thailand’s obligations under international instruments to which it is a state party.
“The claim made by the Thai government that the country’s prison conditions conform with international standards is ludicrous. Reforms that seek to ensure prison conditions comply with minimum international standards and that place rehabilitation at the core of the penitentiary system are urgently needed,” said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.
For more than a decade, United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms have expressed concern over prison conditions in Thailand. Regrettably, successive Thai governments have failed to make any progress in the implementation of the UN’s recommendations and to uphold their own commitments to improve prison conditions.
The situation has not improved since the 22 May 2014 military coup. Under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), access to prisons has become more difficult. In addition, based on interviews with former prisoners and families of current inmates, FIDH and UCL were able to document that prison authorities have enforced stricter prison regulations and further curtailed prisoners’ rights. In addition, the junta has increasingly detained civilians at military facilities that fail to afford detainees many of their basic rights. The use of the Nakhon Chaisri temporary detention facility inside the 11th Army Circle base in Bangkok illustrates this trend.
Overcrowding remains the most pressing issue in Thai prisons. Thailand’s prison population has steadily increased over the years and the country has the dubious distinction of having the largest prison population and the highest incarceration rate among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states. Available official statistics representing 91% of its overall prison population show that these prisons are operating with a prison population of more than double the intended capacity – with an occupancy level of 224%.
Inadequate access to medical treatment, insufficient food and potable water, and poor sanitation facilities continue to plague the prisons examined in this report. It is likely that similar conditions exist in other prisons across Thailand. Medical care and special arrangements for pregnant women are particularly lacking. Prisoners are often subjected to exploitative labor practices characterized by harsh working conditions and insufficient remuneration. Punishment in prisons contravenes international standards and, in some cases, may amount to torture and ill-treatment. Prisoners’ statements indicate that restraining devices, such as shackles, have been excessively used. Finally, inmates have reported unreasonable restrictions placed on visits and correspondence with family and friends. While procedures for making complaints exist, prisoners are afraid to lodge complaints out of fear of retaliation at the hands of prison officials.
The amended Penitentiary Act, approved in December 2016 and promulgated on 18 February 2017, introduces a number of improvements compared to the 1936 Penitentiary Act. However, the new law contains several provisions that are not in line with international standards, including clauses that allow the abuse of instruments of restraint on prisoners, the practice of solitary confinement in excess of 15 consecutive days, and the exemption for prison officials from civil and criminal liability in certain circumstances.
“If the degree of civilization in a society is judged by its prison system, Thailand’s government must be considered cruel and inhumane. Authorities must consider prisoners as individuals worthy of substantial rights and ensure that Thailand’s domestic and international commitments with regard to prison conditions are fulfilled,” said UCL Senior Advisor Danthong Breen.