Thai Prisons Bursting at Seams, Reforms Needed: Panel

Photo: Felix Kästle / Dpa
Photo: Felix Kästle / Dpa

BANGKOK — Thai prisons are overcrowded and alternatives to detention are needed, according to the kingdom’s top gaoler.

Despite a population of only about 70 million, the kingdom has the world’s sixth largest prison population. Solving the overcrowding problem requires alternative approaches and systemic changes throughout the justice system, from police and prosecutors up through the courts and prison system, Corrections Department chief Naras Savestanan said Saturday at a discussion hosted by his agency in the capital.

There are just over 350,000 prisoners serving prison terms out of near 70 million population. The capacity of the kingdom’s 144 detention facilities adds up to only 217,000, according to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

A vast majority of convicts are serving time for drug-related offenses, something that has prompted a serious look at reforming the laws and decriminalizing narcotics.


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Some alternatives including detention outside prison have not been tangibly successful so far, Narat said.

Higher fines should be weighed for minor crimes instead of jail time, according to Srisombat Chokprajakchat, a sociologist with Mahidol University.


People who commit minor crimes should also be allowed to do community service instead of paying fines as they may end up behind bars if they are unable to pay.

Srisombat added that home confinement of minor offenders with electronic tags should be introduced as it would alleviate overcrowding. Another option floated by the academic was to convince the courts to opt for more suspended sentences.

Thanee Vorapat, director of the Legal Research and Development Center at Dhukarij Pundit University, said overcrowding is a major issue as inmates spend 16 hours in their cells daily, raising doubts as to how they could be rehabilitated. He also supported the use of fines instead of jail time for minor offenses.