Thailand Prison Crowding ‘Getting Worse’ With Growing Number of Terror Detainees

Haireez Azeem
160126-MY-IDC-TH-NATHEE-620.JPG Nathee Chitsawang of Thailand's Institute of Justice addresses the International Conference on Deradicalization and Countering Violent Extremism 2016 in Kuala Lumpur, Jan. 26, 2016.

The number of terrorism suspects in overcrowded prisons in Thailand is growing, affecting the management and rehabilitation of inmates, an official from a government-funded institute told an international counterterrorism conference Tuesday.

Most of the suspects are believed held in Thailand's insurgency-torn south, where rebels in Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia have launched bomb attacks and shootings since 2004, targeting mostly troops or police but also civilians.

The current prison population is three times larger than total capacity, Thailand’s Institute of Justice (TIJ) Deputy Executive Director Nathee Chitsawang told the final day of a two-day conference on deradicalization and countering violent extremism, hosted by Malaysia.

Nathee did not provide the number of inmates in prisons in the country or in any of the southern provinces in Thailand, which he acknowledged has faced a “prison overcrowding crisis” for more than a decade.

But he said that although more than 50 percent of prisoners in Thailand are drugs-related offenders, “the situation seems to be getting worse when the number of terrorists in prison has continued growing.”

“The overcrowding in correctional facilities has a major impact on the available space and limited resources to provide them with the proper treatment programs and activities,” he said.

In addition, the prisoner classification process “cannot be done efficiently under the situation of mass imprisonment,” he lamented.

Nathee said most prisons were not designed to hold terror suspects, adding that “the correctional settings have to be specially designed and planned for terrorist inmates.”

Pre-trial prisoners

Another obstacle to rehabilitating terror suspects is that most of them have not been convicted of any offences, he said.

“About 90 percent of the terrorists are pre-trial inmates because [they] have not been sentenced yet,” he said.

“The problem is that when they are still the pre-trial prisoners, they are likely to refuse to attend the treatment programs,” he said, adding that only “informal dialogue” is held to “change their behaviours.”

Nathee also called for harmonization in the deradicalization programs inside and outside Thai prisons.

He said the majority of prisoners in southern Thai provinces are held together with terror suspects.

“The segregation of treatment can help to prevent them from recruiting more members among the prisoners,” he said.

The TIJ, which is affiliated with Thailand’s Ministry of Justice, works on prison reforms and makes efforts to boost research and capacity-building in fighting crime and upholding justice.

The London-based International Centre for Prison Studies said on its website that there are 314,858 prisoners in Thailand, citing statistics as late as December 2015.

According to a former Muslim rebel leader, identified only as Ma-ae, there are over 300 rebels in jail in Thailand’s Deep South and in Bangkok's maximum-security Bang Kwang prison.

Ma-ae, an ex-leader of the Patani United Liberation Organization (PULO) who was released from prison last year, said in September that he believed there were 40 rebel prisoners in Yala, 40 to 50 in Narathiwat and about 80 in Pattani. Those three provinces and four districts of neighboring Songkla make up the Deep South region.

There are also a total of 150 rebel prisoners in Songkla prison and in Bang Kwang prison.


Ministers and officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the 10-member bloc’s strategic partners – the United States, France, Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, China and Italy – attended the conference.

Nathee said that Thai prison authorities divided terror suspects into three groups – the hardcore leaders with “strong motivations and ideologies,” the staff or “soldiers” and the supporters of militant groups.

He added the supporters and soldiers do not adopt any ideologies but typically joined the groups for “high pay” and are believed linked to illegal drug trafficking. Their rehabilitation is focused on equipping them with vocational skills and improving their personal attitudes for “enhancing employability after release.”

He said leaders of militant groups are rehabilitated by showing “genuine” compassion, easing concerns on their family members, transferring them to correctional facilities in their hometowns and providing visitation rights and personal help.

Pimuk Rakkanam contributed to this report.


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