Prison raids are normally conducted by Corrections Department officials. A team comes from a neighbouring prison and they find enough inconsequential items to embarrass the convicts but nothing to cause problems for the chief warden, who is usually tipped off in advance. The results of these searches are seldom announced.
When Pol Lt Col Suchart Wongananchai took office as director-general of corrections on Oct 3 2011, he used policemen to conduct nationwide prison raids. These outsiders uncovered an unprecedented amount of contraband in a span of six months.
The items were put on display on April 27. They included 9,513 mobile phones, 58,991 methamphetamine pills, and 6,577g crystal meth, or ice. The haul came from raids on 50 of the 143 prisons in the country. Twenty-eight corrections officials were dismissed.
Particularly impressive were the lethal weapons, such as short pointed daggers and large cleavers resembling butcher knives. Prisoners honed them by sharpening waste metal on pavement. Plastic toothbrushes were similarly fashioned.
Small bottles for inhaling ”ice” were assembled from a herbal remedy called ya nut. The vapours from heated methamphetamine could be inhaled through regular drinking straws. All these materials are readily available inside prisons.
Gambling is a major activity and home-made playing cards, with 52 to the deck, were made from cigarette packages. They showed considerable artistry.
Of special note was the raid on Bang Kwang on Feb 3. This institution houses hardened male criminals with sentences of over 30 years. The site is actually across the street from Corrections Department headquarters in Nonthaburi.
The police went in at 3am when convicts were all under key. The police found items Corrections Department had missed. One inmate was running a kitchen. Another had a personal bed, TV and pin-up photos on the wall of his cell.
The chief warden at the time, Visanu Prachongrit, has since been moved to a new position within the Corrections Department.
None of the displayed contraband came from women’s prisons. Officials are at a loss to explain why women should be such model prisoners, though some speculate it may be due to how infrequently the facilities housing them are raided.
A source at the woman’s prison at Khlong Prem said inspections are carried out by local staff only who periodically go through the lockers. She said there were no known mobile phone seizures and very few drug incidents.