After it was revealed that nearly 3,000 inmates in Thailand’s prison system have Covid-19, criticism and calls are mounting to follow the global trend of reducing the total number of prisoners in the country. Human rights groups are calling for the release of inmates held on minor charges, with Amnesty International Thailand requesting those in “unnecessary custody to be minimised” in an open letter sent to the Supreme Court president and Justice Ministry on Tuesday.
Covid-19 outbreaks in prison have been a problem for many countries, with the United Kingdom identifying 12,000 infections and considering plans to prioritise vaccinations for those incarceration facilities. The United States, a country with one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks and the largest prison population in the world, saw 612,000 prisoner infections.
Amnesty International argued that over 600,000 inmates had been scheduled for release in 100 countries to minimise Covid-19 risk by reducing overcrowded prisoners. In New South Wales, Australia 14,000 non-felony inmates are scheduled for release, and in New Jersey in the US 1,000 releases are being considered. Even in Iran, prison populations were thinned with the March release of 85,000 prisoners.
In Thailand, plans for reducing the number of incarcerated prisoners by freeing more than 50,000 inmates are being enacted. Suspending sentences, requesting Royal pardons, and even amending laws to free those serving on drug offences are avenues being pursued, according to Thailand’s Justice Minister. He also denied rumours of a Covid-19 cover-up, saying that the Department of Corrections just received complete data on Wednesday and released it then.
Only six staff members of Thai prisons have been infected while 1,795 prisoners at Bangkok Remand Prison and 1,040 prisoners at the Central Women’s Correctional Institution now have Covid-19. Inmates have reported dire conditions, with symptomatic prisoners found in nearly every holding cell. Field hospitals have been set up within prisons to treat mild infections and those more seriously afflicted have been moved to hospitals.
Overcrowding is a major problem for prisons in Thailand, a country with one of the highest incarceration rates worldwide. The maximum capacity for Thailand’s 143 incarceration centres is 217,000 people but the World Prison Brief reports that Thailand’s prison system now houses over 377,000 inmates, highlighting the need for reducing the number of prisoners in the country.
Authorities at these institutions say that prisoners returning from attending court hearings are responsible for bringing in infections. But prisoners have reported that all inmates returning on any given day are held together for their 14 day isolation period instead of separated to avoid Covid-19 spread.
Vaccines are expected to arrive in prisons next month where, just like the general population, they will first be given to those with chronic diseases and other high-risk inmates. The Department of Corrections expects to receive enough jabs for the entire prison population.
SOURCE: Thai PBS World
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