Rights groups decry inadequate health care, rudimentary monitoring of inmates' mental well-being at overcrowded jails
Gross overcrowding at Bangkok's Immigration Detention Center allows at most a space of one meter by 40 centimeters per person to stretch out and sleep. A facility designed to hold no more than 500 detainees often accommodates up to 1,200.
Thousands of inmates at Thailand’s overcrowded prisons are suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, the Corrections Department has said.
Some 5,000 inmates out of the country’s 300,000 prisoners, who have been jailed for drug-related offenses and other crimes, have mental health issues, according to Worada Wasunnantasiri, director of the department's medical division.
The actual number could well be higher, however, as Thai prisons are notorious for lacking adequate healthcare facilities and the monitoring of inmates’ mental health remains rudimentary, according to rights groups.
Worada said inmates with severe mental health issues are closely monitored by prison psychologists and, if need be, placed on suicide watch.
Only 31 psychologists are working in 10 prisons across Thailand, while physicians and therapists also treat inmates with mental health issues at medical institutions, she added.
For years, rights groups have been calling on Thai authorities to improve conditions, including the provision of medical health, at prisons.
“Prison decongestion alone will not suffice to improve conditions — more needs to be done to ensure prisoners are treated with dignity and humanity”
In its latest report, published in March, on conditions at Thai prisons, the International Federation for Human Rights details numerous shortcomings and “inhumane” conditions such as overcrowding, degrading treatment, poor hygiene and insufficient access to medical care including mental health.
The rights group notes that more than 80 percent of inmates in Thai prisons are incarcerated for drug-related offenses and that many inmates continue to suffer from mental health issues related to substance abuse.
“Prison decongestion alone will not suffice to improve conditions — more needs to be done to ensure prisoners are treated with dignity and humanity,” stressed Adilur Rahman Khan, the group’s secretary-general.
In an earlier report, the rights group noted that “elderly prisoners, sick prisoners and prisoners with mental health issues are usually housed with the general prison population.”
It went on to explain that prisons “lack an adequate staff of healthcare workers and their services are very difficult to access” for inmates suffering from various ailments including mental health issues.
Overworked physicians also have little time for individual inmates and so can often provide only cursory treatment.
The rights group quoted former inmates at Thai prisons who described healthcare provision as “horrible.”
When inmates get sick, “we cannot wait for the healthcare services because it takes too long. If there is anything we can do, we’ll do it on our own,” one former inmate was quoted as saying.
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