The emergence of thousands of COVID-19 cases in Thailand’s jails underscores the threat posed by overcrowded prisons across Asia.
oleh Umair Jamal
As Thailand battles its third wave of COVID-19 infections, a large number of cases are emerging among the country’s prison populations.
Thailand has recorded lebih daripada 70,000 new COVID-19 cases over the past month, bringing the country’s total number of cases to 137,894 dengan 873 kematian, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The outbreaks of cases within prisons stem in part from overcrowding and inadequate healthcare facilities provided for inmates. The situation is similar in other countries in the region, where rights groups and prison reform advocates have been warning about COVID-19 outbreaks.
To contain its crisis, Thailand needs to take immediate steps to reduce its prison population and offer adequate protective measures and medical care to detainees.
Thailand records surge in cases among prison population
On May 12, Thailand’s Department of Corrections said that almost 3,000 prisoners at two prisons in the country’s capital had tested positive for COVID-19. The announcement came after detained pro-democracy activists tested positive for the disease and began raising concerns about transparency and accurate reporting of cases in prisons. Pada bulan Mei 17, daripada 9,635 new COVID-19 cases reported in 24 Jam, 6,853 adalah dilaporkan in prisons. Thailand has now reported roughly 13,000 COVID-19 cases in its jails since the emerge of the pandemic.
“If we can’t get enough vaccines or if we can’t contain the spread quickly, we’ll have to think about reducing the number of inmates in the system through early release,” Somsak Thepsuthin, Thailand’s justice minister kepada Bloomberg.
“They’re already incarcerated. They shouldn’t have to suffer more than that.”
Pada bulan Mei 13, Somsak said in a press conference that prison authorities across the country are taking immediate steps to control the situation, including reducing the number of prisoners. According to some reports, Thailand’s government is planning to release roughly 50,000 banduan to stem the crisis.
Somsak also emphasized that the spread of COVID-19 is under control in the country’s prisons and said that all prisoners will be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Asia’s prisons were already COVID-19 hotspots
In April 2020, Human Rights Watch warned that Asia’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons are at serious risk for COVID-19 outbreaks which could pose a threat to inmates, staff and the broader population.
Mengikut Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, Indonesia and Cambodia’s prisons are already at over 200% capacity. At more than four times its intended capacity, the Philippines’ prison system is the most overcrowded in the world after that of the Congo. In early May, the Philippines discovered a number ofCOVID-19 clusters among inmates, prompting the government to release at least 10,000 inmatesto reduce the risk of further COVID-19 transmission.
Pada bulan Mei 8, 34 banduan tested positive for COVID-19 in one of Cambodia’s largest jails. Cambodia’s government is now planning to conduct COVID-19 testing for nearly 39,000 inmates being held across the country.
Pada bulan Disember 2020, HRW warned that such an outbreak was likely in Cambodia’s prisons.
Thailand can take steps to contain outbreaks in prisons
Thailand’s government needs to make sure that people in prison have access to adequate health care facilities and must also explore options to significantly reduce the number of prisoners. Pada masa ini, sekitar 311,000 inmates are being held in Thailand though the country’s prison system is only equipped to house about 110,000 banduan, mengikut Ringkas Penjara Dunia.
“The Thai government is obligated under international law to ensure that prisoners and detainees have adequate health protections and care, particularly during escalating COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director. He added that the government should allow the “supervised release of those held on politically motivated charges or for minor offenses.”
People with compromised immunity such as the elderly and people with disabilities should either be released or shifted to less crowded spaces. People who have not been convicted or do not pose a threat to the public could be released.
As HRW’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton said inkenyataan, “Without protecting prisoners’ health, Asia’s governments will be unable to stem this pandemic.”