Officials’ attitudes to female inmates remain poor

February 23, 2013


Despite the Kingdom’s development of a new set of standards emphasising gender sensitivity to supplement the existing 1955 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, many challenges remain, particularly in changing the attitude of prison staff, an international meeting on the subject in Bangkok was told.

The so-called “Bangkok Rules”, initiated by the Thai government under the direction of HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha in 2010, comprise 70 regulations. A public organisation, the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), was created by Royal decree in 2011 to promote and support the implementation of the Bangkok Rules nationally and internationally.

TIJ deputy director Nathee Chitsawang said the biggest challenge in implementing the Bangkok Rules in order to improve the rights and situation of women inmates in Thailand is to change the attitude of Corrections Department officials themselves.

“They have a rather negative impression of the Bangkok Rules,” Nathee told the gathering of participants from a dozen Asia-Pacific countries who met in Bangkok for a three-day meeting that ended Thursday. Nathee cited other challenges including a shortage of prison staff, a heavy daily workload and the impression that adhering to the Bangkok Rules is tantamount to being assigned a “another job” on top of existing duties.

“Training should emphasise not knowledge of the Bangkok Rules, but attitude,” Nathee said.

There are currently more than 2,000 female corrections officers in Thailand, but only 150 can be trained each year. Officers like Busaba Sakrangkun, director of the Phitsanulok Women’s Correctional Facility, is worried. Busaba added, however, that those running prisons can at least bring up the issue of the Bangkok Rules to inform their staff, even if the officers have not been trained in them.

Bangkok Rule No 27, for example, states that in facilities where conjugal visits are allowed, women prisoners shall be able to exercise the right on an equal basis with men.

In Thailand, only two prisons allow for conjugal visits, however.

In the Philippines, conjugal visits are not allowed due to fears that an additional burden will be placed on the prison system if women prisoners end up becoming pregnant, said Rafael Marcos Z Ragos, deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Adherence to other rules, such No 19, which stipulates that women prisoners’ dignity and respect are to be protected during personal searches, which shall only be carried out by women staff who have been properly trained, is hindered by a shortage of women staff in some countries.

The regional meeting concluded that there is a need to incorporate the Bangkok Rules into national legislation in order for it to be seriously implemented.

The meeting also agreed that budgetary constraints and developing an appropriate training curriculum pose challenges as well.

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