Prison report in Thailand: sub-standard conditions and inadequate COVID-19 response

Handout / Royal Thai Army / AFP

Bangkok, Paris, March 24, 2022. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) release the first-ever annual report on prison conditions in Thailand. It highlights the government’s inadequate response to COVID-19 and sub-standard conditions in the country’s correctional facilities, despite a decreasing prison population and encouraging steps towards policy reform.

“Following years of recommendations about the need to reform Thailand’s drug laws and implement alternatives to detention in order to reduce the country’s prison population, the government has finally begun acting on those calls. However, prison decongestion alone will not suffice to improve conditions - more needs to be done to ensure prisoners are treated with dignity and humanity.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

FIDH’s and UCL’s annual prison report is the only independent and comprehensive assessment of prison conditions in Thailand. The 2022 report covers developments, trends, facts, and figures related to the Thai prison system from 1 January to 31 December 2021, and makes numerous practical recommendations for the improvement of prison conditions.

The authorities’ slow and inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic in prisons is the central issue of concern examined in the report. Despite non-governmental organizations’ sounding the alarm at the beginning of the pandemic over the inadequacy of the government’s measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in the prison system, more than a year later authorities were caught unprepared by a new wave of infections. Ineffective preventive measures, an inadequate budget allocation, and a slow vaccine rollout failed to stop the spread of the virus among correctional facilities across the country.

Another issue of ongoing concern is the situation of prison conditions, which remained below international standards in 2021. Based on interviews conducted by FIDH with 11 former prisoners, many recurring matters emerged. They included:
- prison overcrowding;
- prisoners being subjected to cruel punishment, degrading treatment, and discrimination;
- poor hygienic conditions;
- insufficient access to medical services, including for mental health;
- increased isolation from the outside world and lack of recreational opportunities; and
- ineffective complaint mechanisms.

With regard to the positive developments, Thailand saw a 27% progressive decrease in its total prison population. However, it must be stressed that the prison population remained high and the prison system continued to be plagued by overcrowding.

In addition, even though prisoners incarcerated for drug-related offenses continued to account for the overwhelming majority of Thailand’s prison population – nearly 82% as of December 2021 – the Thai Justice Ministry promoted long overdue amendments to drug-related legislation in an attempt to reduce prison overcrowding. Legislation passed in 2021 emphasized prevention and treatment rather than punishment for possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. It also aimed at adjusting penalties related to drug production, drug import or export, drug possession, and drug abuse to be proportionate to the severity of the offense.

Lastly, the number of prisoners facing a death sentence significantly decreased in 2021. From January to December 2021, the number of such prisoners had dropped by 31%.

The 2022 annual prison report follows the publication of two other reports by FIDH and UCL on prison conditions in recent years:
- “Behind the walls – A look at prison conditions in Thailand after the coup,” published in February 2017;
- “Flawed models – Implementation of international standards in Thailand’s ‘model’ prisons for women,” published in December 2019.

Read the 2021 report:

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