COVID-19 burns through Thai prisons as thousands more test positive

Photo: Department of Corrections
Photo: Department of Corrections

Over 60% of all prisoners have contracted COVID-19 in Chiang Mai. At Bangkok Remand Prison, two out of three inmates in state care have fallen ill.

The horrible extent to which the virus has ravaged Thailand’s prisons is just coming to light through piecemeal disclosures such as yesterday’s announcement by the Corrections Department that another 7,000 inmates had contracted the virus on top of the nearly 3,000 disclosed last week. 

And that only accounts for 10 of the nation’s 143 correctional facilities. The outbreaks at two provincial prisons where alarms were first raised – in Surat Thani and Narathiwat – have yet to be made public.

Sunday’s disclosure of 6,853 stricken inmates at eight facilities led Thailand to officially add nearly 10,000 to the books today, the most ever in a single day. Twenty-five deaths were recorded nationwide as well.

Thailand’s prisons have a COVID problem it doesn’t want to talk about

Prison authorities have not disclosed how many inmates have died of the disease.

Just five days ago, they announced that 2,835 inmates had been infected at two Bangkok prisons, only coming clean under public pressure to lift a veil of silence that had fallen over the system for over a month after the first warning signs.

“The Thai government needs to be forthright about the Covid-19 outbreaks in its prison system and how it intends to avoid disastrous consequences for those held,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in response Thursday. “Many people warned the Thai authorities that they needed to act proactively to avoid such a situation, but it seems they got caught sleeping at the switch.” 

The eight prison outbreaks included:

  • Chiang Mai Central Prison: 3,929 infected out of 6,469 prisoners and detainees (61%).
  • Bangkok Remand Prison: 1,960 infected out of 3,023 prisoners and detainees (67%).
  • Central Women’s Correctional Institution: 1,039 infected out of 4,488 prisoners and detainees. (23%)
  • Klong Prem Central Prison: 1,016 infected out of 8,088 prisoners and detainees (13%). 
  • Thonburi Remand Prison: 1,725 infected out of 4,015 prisoners and detainees (43%).
  • Chachoengsao Central Prison: 43 infected out of 2,671 prisoners and detainees (2%).
  • Central Special Treatment Center: 12 infected out of 5,876 prisoners and detainees (0.2%).
  • Nonthaburi Prison: 59 infected out of total 2,661 prisoners and detainees (2%).

Society was forced to pay attention after a number of high-profile activists jailed to contain protests contracted the disease. Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul and lawyer Arnon Nampa, said they contracted COVID-19 behind bars and joined calls for the Corrections Department to come clean about the actual number of infected prisoners nationwide and take proper care of them. 

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch told Coconuts Bangkok last week that with the COVID-19 crisis worsening, the Justice Ministry and courts should be taking steps to reduce the prison population, where conditions are ripe for the virus to spread, rather than increase it.

Despite a population of only 70 million, Thailand has the world’s sixth-largest prison population, and the system was already overcrowded when the pandemic began, having swollen to more than 374,o00 inmates as of January 2020. It had fallen to about 310,000 inmates as of May 2.

Altogether, Thailand’s tallied 111,082 infections and 614 deaths since the coronavirus arrived in January 2020.

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Thailand’s prisons have a COVID problem it doesn’t want to talk about

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