Prisoners still loose after COVID-19 fear sparks Thai prison riot

An image of the Buriram prison on Sunday from a bird’s eye view.
An image of the Buriram prison on Sunday from a bird’s eye view.

Corrections officials insist they have regained control of a prison in northeastern Thailand after a riot broke out and an unknown number of escaped inmates remain at large.

The Buriram Prison today said that it had moved thousands of inmates to undisclosed facilities after much of the facility was torched following a rumor that a prisoner had become infected with COVID-19.

“From the chaos that occurred yesterday, we have worked incessantly, and we acknowledge the concerns of the inmates’ families. However, at the moment, we cannot reveal to the public which inmate has been evacuated to which prison. Please wait for our official announcement in the near future,” Buriram Prison wrote on its official Facebook page

It said nearly 2,000 inmates of both genders have been transferred.

Health officials announced another 136 cases and two deaths on Monday, raising the total number of known infections to 1,524 since January. Known fatalities are nine.

Corrections officials say they do not know how many escaped Sunday after fear of the virus spreading in confinement sparked the riot.

Seven have been recaptured, and drones were being used to search for those still at large, said Col. Narat Sawetnan, Corrections Department director.

A few inmates were reportedly injured by inhaling smoke from the fire, which ravaged wards and guard facilities. No one is believed to have died during the chaos, Narat said.

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin said none of the inmates was infected with COVID-19.

Thailand has the highest incarceration rate in Asia and the fifth highest in the world, and its overcapacity facilities routinely see prisoners sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on floors. All of the department’s 143 facilities are overcrowded. As of early 2020, the vast majority of the nearly 380,000-strong prison population were drug offenders. 

Thailand has the highest incarceration rate in Asia and the fifth highest in the world, and its overcapacity facilities routinely see prisoners sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on floors. 

Fears of the virus spreading in confined spaces have roiled prison populations worldwide.

Earlier this month, the Corrections Department said it would impose some measures to prevent inmates from getting infected by screening new inmates and placing them into separate facilities. Amid the outbreak, the prisons have been placed on lockdown with inmates unable to go outside and visits suspended.

Read more Coconuts Bangkok COVID-19 coverage.

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