Prisons bursting with drug offenders

August 1, 2010

The number of prisoners in Thailand’s 143 jails is now well over capacity with more than 200,000 inmates around the country. About 60 per cent had been jailed for drug offences, Corrections Department chief Chartchai Suthiklom said.

The large number of prisoners had affected the department’s budget, staff and capacity to manage both jails and inmates, he said.

Records show the number of prisoners rose drastically from 152,625 in 2006 to 206,988 last year.

And this year, the total number surged to 206,000 over the first six months. Nearly two thirds were drug offenders.

The average number of prisoners per month has risen from 16,000 in last year to 17,600 in this year.

Chartchai said Thailand had 143 jails across the country and about 10,000 staff working for the department. The capacity of all jails should be only 140,000 inmates a year.

Meanwhile, the present ratio of staff and prisoners was 1:20. But an appropriate figure would be 1:5.

Problems stemmed from the government’s plan to limit funds for state agencies. But the department had saved funds by maximising the use of its space, which left it enough budget for its work.

Chartchai said he had asked for Bt8 million next year to help the department to develop jails and boost its human resources capacity.

However, as 60 per cent of prisoners were drug addicts, he was concerned about the rise in such inmates since the end of the “war on drugs” – a highly controversial crackdown in 2003 when several thousand dealers were killed.

Chartchai said even though most major drug dealers were behind bars the demand for narcotic drugs, especially ya ba (methamphetamine), remained.

Most detained drug dealers used networks inside and outside jail to contact suppliers, mostly in northern provinces and along the Burma borders to sell drugs to customers in Bangkok and nearby provinces, which had the biggest market for ya ba dealers.

“Even though we were able to arrest major drug dealers and detain them in jail, many people outside the jail are ready to be new major drug dealers,” the director-general said.

People want to be a new-face ya ba dealer because they can make a lot of profit from selling ya ba. The cost of one pill is Bt3 a tablet but the price they are sold for has increased to Bt200 to Bt400 per tablet.

“All new-face drug dealers are happy to take risks because the demand still exists, even though they know that they could face the death sentence.”

Prison overcrowding
Thai prisons’ maximum capacity: 140,000 inmates
Current number of inmates: over 200,000
Ratio of correction staff to prisoners is 1: 20
New arrivals to prisons (per month on average): 17,600 inmates

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