The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has proposed replacing prison terms for certain offences with sliding scale fines based on convicts’ incomes and inflation.
The number of inmates is steadily increasing, along with the budget required to care for prisoners, said TDRI vice-president Somkiat Tangkitvanich, citing a new study.
The number of inmates in Thailand has increased from about 180,000 inmates in 2008 to about 250,000 this year _ a 38% increase.
The only measures that can help curb the number of prisoners are granting pardons and reducing jail terms, Mr Somkiat said.
“One option is to minimise the jail terms and replace them with fines for certain types of offences,” he said.
He suggested defamation, cheque-related crimes, intellectual property infringement and drink-driving cases as offences where the jail terms should be reduced and fines should be adjusted based on inflation and convicts’ incomes.
This way, rich people would not have an advantage over poorer citizens when it came to paying fines, he said.
Other measures could also be considered as alternatives to prison sentences, Mr Somkiat said.
In France, for instance, banks ban people convicted of bouncing cheques from conducting any transactions at all, a penalty which is viewed as having as serious an impact on the wrongdoers as imprisonment, he said.
Citing a German study, Mr Somkiat said only 16% of convicts who are fined repeated the same offence, whereas 50% of convicts who are imprisoned become repeat offenders.
The current fine rates are too low and outdated as they have been set at the same level since 1957, the year the law regulating fines was introduced, he said.
Minimum fines have remained at between 100 baht and 1,000 baht over the past five decades, said Mr Somkiat.
“Some may say we have two standards of fining, but in reality, we don’t have any standard at all,” he said.
The government has earmarked a budget of 9 billion baht for the Corrections Department and 19 billion baht for the Justice Ministry for the next fiscal year.
Deputy permanent secretary for justice Charnchao Chaiyanukij said efforts to revamp the judicial process, which began about 10 years ago, are still going nowhere despite a master plan having already been put in place.