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Allowing more non-violent and pre-trial prisoners out on bail would reduce overcrowding and help contain the recent surge of Covid contagion in the country’s prisons, opposition MPs said Friday.
Overcrowding in prisons was already known to increase the spread of skin diseases or tuberculosis, but “with Covid-19 this is much faster,” said Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party.
“There is a need to grant bail to… those with good behaviour or still fighting their cases [pre-trial], which could lower the prison population,” he said. Electronic monitoring devices could be used to track the prisoners out on bail, he added.
Fellow MFP member Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn agreed. “Prisons are overcrowded and it is hard to enforce social distancing, so outbreaks are inevitable,” he said . “The Medical Corrections Hospital is lacking equipment and screening is still slow.”
Prisons throughout Thailand from Narathiwat, Surat Thani, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai have reported new clusters in the past month. Prominent human rights lawyer and pro-democracy leader Arnon Nampa tested positive at Bangkok Remand Prison on Thursday.
Arnon likely contracted the virus from fellow pro-democracy leader and detainee Chukiat “Justin” Sangwong, according to Dr Weerakit Harnpariphan, Deputy Director General of the Department of Corrections.
It was unlikely that the infection had spread from prison guards, he told state broadcaster MCOT early Friday. “The ones in contact with the prisoners have tested negative,” he said.
“What it comes down to is what happens between the courts and prisons,” he said, confirming that Justin only left the facility to go to hearings at the Criminal Court.
“There are around 30,000 people in the seven detention facilities in Bangkok, with 300-400 people coming in every day,” Dr Weerakit told MCOT reporters. “What we do is the basic range of measuring the temperature, testing for fevers, and screening for cold-like symptoms.”
Despite the 24-hour mask policy, there are periods when prisoners are resting, eating, or sleeping and therefore do not wear masks, and they may also sometimes fall off.
He also said the quarantine was being extended to 21 days, as some patients had started showing symptoms only after the end of the current 14-day period.
Dr Weerakit did not provide details about how the country’s prison system, already home to one of the world’s largest incarcerated populations, would accommodate all new inmates for an additional week of quarantine. “We have to strengthen our capacities for Covid testing and screening,” he said.
Regarding the challenge of bail, Wiroj and Rome said the problem was wider than just the Covid outbreaks. “An accused can be turned into a [de facto] prisoner very easily,” explained Wiroj. “There are a few ways to deny bail [unjustly], such as interfering with evidence, the legal system, or in some cases harassing witnesses.”
“Another reason people cannot make bail is not the [practical] conditions the court outlined, but the cost for bail,” said Rome. “Sometimes the cost does not reflect the economic situation of those asking for bail.”
“Bail should be available to everyone,” said Wiroj. “If you continue to hold them, and then the court rules not guilty or decides not to prosecute, what compensation will they receive [for the time in prison]?”
“This is why people say prisons are for poor people while the rich get away.”