A Thai prison officer has been jailed for life for attempted murder and others dismissed for failure to comply with a new strict code of discipline. The current Director General of the Corrections Department in Thailand, who announced the development in a statement this week, has shown a determination to reform the Thai prison service and root out corruption despite chronic overcrowding and a lack of investment up to now.

This week it was revealed a prison officer had been jailed for life after being convicted of attempted murder and five others dismissed from the service following the meeting of a key committee. It is part of an ongoing crackdown on ill discipline and lax standards in the Corrections Department. Prison authorities revealed the dismissal of the six prison officers along with the shock news of the sentencing of one of them to life imprisonment for attempted murder by Thailand’s Supreme Court. The information came in a statement from Thailand’s Director General of the Corrections Department, Police Colonel Naras Sawetanan. The Thai prison supremo has shown himself to be committed to reform since he took office in 2017. For families of foreigners serving time in Thailand, this may not, in itself, be a relief to their anguish with some reporting that the tightening of discipline has, in fact, made life that little bit harder.

Thailand’s Director General of the Corrections Department has spearheaded a new drive to tighten discipline and root out corrupt practices in Thailand’s overcrowded prisons where lax standards saw a range of abuses until the military government took power in 2014. Although such practices can not be eliminated overnight and such campaigns have been tried before, the reforming leader of the service who took office in 2017, has shown himself to be both open and in deadly earnest in dealing head on with corruption and abuses committed by a small number of prison officers. It does not  particularly help the anguished families of foreigners serving time in Thailand’s notorious prisons who report a new tightness in prison rules which can sometimes make life a little more difficult for those serving long and hard time.

 Thailand’s prisons have long been reported as places were corruption and malpractice are rife. Corruption that some suggest includes drug dealing, mobile smuggling, and even the attempted murder of inmates for knowing too much. It has all become the stuff of lore. Many such reports are myths or manufactured lies or even embellishments by prisoners looking for attention from those outside who are already dismayed by their crimes and misdeeds. The truth is that Thailand has a mammoth corrections system with over 140 prisons housing over 300,000 inmates in facilities that are today sometimes filled with three or four times the capacity they were designed for.

Thailand’s government is rooting out corruption and emphasising discipline in Thai prisons

Thailand incarcerates more of its people than any other Asian nation and is second in the world only to the United States of America. Among the many thousands of Thai prison guards, of course there is corruption and indeed crime. By and large, however, this corruption is nowhere near the mythical version portrayed or imagined. Most Thai prison officers are, in fact, committed professionals like their current Director General. Many, in fact, care for the prisoners that it is their duty to oversee while serving time. However, for most inmates in Thai prisons, life is indeed a nightmare. It is not the threat of violence, lack of good food or corruption that presents the greatest problem, it is simply overcrowding. Thailand’s current government has been determined to tackle corruption as well as ill discipline and is beginning to address overcrowding which is largely  due to the war on drugs.

 Since the current Thai government came to power in 2014, it has emphasised its determination to challenge any lack of discipline or bad practices in the system. This has seen prison officers expelled from the service, facing serious criminal charges or even jailed themselves for failing to abide by the law or the new prison rules and standards that have been set.

 Thai prison officer jailed for life by Thailand’s Supreme Court for attempted murder

This week, a report from Thailand’s Corrections Department revealed that six Thai prison officers had been dismissed from the service after being charged of violating the prison rules, including mobile smuggling and drug dealing inside prison boundaries. A meeting of the civil service within the Thai Correction Department took place last Friday to ratify the disciplinary action and this was confirmed by the Director General, Police Colonel Naras Sawetanan subsequently in a statement.

In a shocking development, the department revealed that one of the prison officers had been arrested and charged with attempted murder. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment by Thailand’s Supreme Court.

Smuggling tattoo inks into prison cells

One rogue prison officer found to be involved in an illegal activity of smuggling tattoo ink into prison cells in exchange for money or personal favours. Two former prison officers were accused of being absent from work for more than 15 days. ‘All six were expelled from the agency,’ explained the Department Director General. Thai authorities had previously warned officers within the service, at the end of 2017, that such infractions would, in future, result in disciplinary measures including dismissal.

Thai authorities discharge some officers from the civil service after disciplinary meeting

‘The authorities discharged another guard from service after he was charged with smuggling 5 Benzhexol pills into the prison,’ the Director General further revealed. This type of medication is not allowed by Thailand’s prison authorities to be brought into the prison environs or cells. There is an ongoing crackdown by Thailand’s military backed government, who are determined to root out abuses and corruption in Thailand’s civil service and most particularly, in the country’s security services and the administration of justice. It has also been reported by some prisoners, serving time within Thailand’s harsh prison system, that the regime has become noticeably stricter and more disciplined since the military junta came to power in 2014.

Anguish and suffering of families for foreigners serving long prison sentences in Thailand often for drug dealing and serious crimes

However more discipline and tighter observation of prison regulations does nothing to ease the anguish of western families with loved ones serving time in Thailand’s prisons. In some cases, although not intended, it can even make thing harder. One UK family reported in 2015 that their son, ex British soldier Lance Whitmore, imprisoned for drugs, was not allowed the towels the family had supplied him for his personal use while sleeping on a cement floor in a cell with up to 200 other convicts, as they were deemed too luxurious. ‘I gave him two towels which he was sleeping on but the guards took them away because they said he was too comfortable,’ his father, Russell, who lives in Pattaya, told the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper. He revealed that he travels regularly from Pattaya to the notorious Klong Prem prison in Bangkok to bring his son food in order to help him survive his ordeal.

Ordeal: 50 years in Bangkok’s Klong Prem, one of the world’s most notorious prisons

The 31 year old was arrested in Pattaya in 2014 for possession of 200 pills along with an Australian friend. He was sentenced to 50 years in a Thai prison in 2015 meaning he will be 77 when released if he is forced to serve his full sentence. His sentence was upheld by a Thai  court in September 2016, dashing his family’s hopes. There are many seasoned observers on the outside who feel that the young UK man may not make it. His mental state is fragile and he is reported to be losing weight. He had moved to Thailand in 2010 giving a career in the petrochemical sector and his arrest came months his beloved girlfriend died suddenly from meningitis. His family feel that this shock led him to be entrapped into being in possession of the drugs that led to his downfall

The mother of jailed Swedish drug dealer Kim Eriksson, Asa, told the media at the end of 2017 that her son was being restricted in accessing reading material while serving hard time, in fact, a life sentence at Thailand’s Bang Kwang prison, an even more notorious penal institution.

Advice to the Thai prison officers by the Corrections Department to is to be dutiful at all times

In a recent statement on internal corruption and malpractice relating to the Thai Corrections Department released itself, it has been revealed that it has discharged 43 prison officers in the last year as their actions had fallen short of the new standards required by the prison regime.

The current removal of staff from the prison services comes after a crackdown at the end of 2017 which saw a purge of wardens and supervisors within the Thai prison service and a clear warning, at that time, that things had changed. Although the department strongly advised prison staff to abide by the new regime, the latest officers that have been dismissed did not, apparently, get the message. ‘They were warned not to be involved in any illegal actions, but all of these warnings went in vain,’ said Director General Police Colonel Naras Sawetanan. ‘The punishments will help boost confidence in correction officers,’ he is reported as saying.

The media and the nightmare of Thai Prisons for westerners who sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of Thai law

The sleeping quarters at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang Prison, where quite a few foreign inmates are imprisoned have been regularly featured on an old video including one famous and well watched one from 2002. That year the prison opened its doors to the media to have a look at the harsh conditions in which inmates reside. There have since been more recent reports like it. The video of the prison, whose name Thai people like to joke means ‘Big Tiger’ because it eats prisoners alive, makes disturbing viewing. Klong Prem is another notorious high security facility. Shocking footage of both prisons shows that lives of foreign prisoners which have become a waken nightmare after their incarceration in Thailand. Since then, there have been countless media reports and books written on life in Thai prisons. They are often written by ex drug dealers or individuals who have survived long stays in the Thai prisons hoping to cash in on their ordeal as if it would them make sense of their mistakes and misfortune.

Thai prison: a deeply humiliating and disturbing experience for foreigners recently who have fallen foul of Thailand’s strict immigration laws

While sensational news sells and the stories paint a nightmare picture, there are also a number of former UK inmates in Thailand’s prisons who later regretted being transferred by to Britain to complete their sentence. They pointed to the casual and laid back nature of the prison regime during their time in Thailand’s prisons. It used to be a conflicting picture. Recent reports in the Thai Examiner from ordinary western people who, through failure to comply with Thailand’s strict immigration laws, have spent months in a Thai prisons, have seen the emergence of new tales of horror and nightmare. These are often people who have never seen the inside of a jail cell before. They are not criminal types. There is one inescapable conclusion, being placed behind bars in Thailand is a shocking, humiliating and deeply uncomfortable if not disturbing experience for foreigners.

Head of Thailand’s prisons set out a new regime at the end of 2017 for more discipline and higher standards in Thai prisons

The current crackdown comes as conditions in Thai prisons, which were thought to have deteriorated due to overcrowding and casual, less disciplined practices, before the current government came to power. Late in 2017, the current prison chief was involved with the dismissal of 14 warden for a range of breaches of regulation and misconduct.

Thailand’s Department of Corrections then dismissed supervisors and senior officers after they were found guilty of among other things, accepting bribes and inducements from prisoners. At that time, the Director General set out clearly, a tougher, more disciplined regime for Thai prison officers. Misconduct was extended to include being absent from work for more than 15 consecutive days, accepting bribes from inmates or helping inmates to operate gambling schemes.

Prison overcrowding, drugs culture and lack of discipline before new prison regime was ushered in and began tightening the screws

Thailand’s overcrowded prisons and rampant drug culture has put pressure on Thailand’s prison authorities. Before the present government came to power, there were reports of drugs being smuggled into Thai prisons and even drug networks within the prisons linked to drugs gangs and underworld operators on the outside. At one stage, a prison nurse was caught selling drugs to inmates. There were also reports of male prisoners being allowed access to female prison quarters for the purposes of sexual relations. The Director General himself confirmed that the senior prison officers, dismissed from the service in 2017, had been involved in taking bribes to arrange prison visits, embezzlement of substantial sums, supplying alcohol to prisoners at extortionate rates of change and even charging money for relatives to see their loved ones serving time. The new efforts may not clean up everything overnight but it is clear that there is a more open attitude and determination to enforce stricter discipline in Thailand’s prisons.

Current prison supremo is a reformer

The current Director General of Thailand prisons and the Corrections Department is a reform minded leader. When he took office in 2017, he identified the overcrowding of the prison system as a key issue to tackle as well as lack of manpower and outdated prison infrastructure. His tenure in office has seen attempts to introduce more technology into the prison system including CCTV and even jamming equipment for mobile phones to disrupt illicit connections to the incarcerated prison population. The corrections chief observed, at the time, that Thai prisons were, in fact, contributing to the creation of offenders in Thai society and said he wanted to see more acceptance of ex prisoners into society who wanted to make good. Thailand’s Department of Corrections is on the verge of making prisons a smoke free area after a pilot project last year proved successful. There are also reports of a new super high security prison being planned for the most dangerous offenders in the country.