Thai jails suffer drug convict overload
Jail commander: Need to differentiate between small and major dealers to ease space shortage
Thailand's 10-year war on drugs is putting criminals behind bars in record numbers.
Corrections department figures for July showed a prison population of 321,347, with around 70 per cent jailed for drug offences.
Prisoners in Thailand make up 40 per cent of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' prison population, despite having only 10 per cent of the bloc's total population, says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Institute for Criminal Policy Research data also shows the Land of Smiles has the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the world.
Lengthy sentences for drug offences are part of the reason why Thai jails struggle with chronic overcrowding, according to both Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya and United Nation experts.
"The world has lost the war on drugs, not only Thailand," he told Reuters. "We have clear numbers that drug use has increased over the past three years. Another indicator is there are more prisoners."
The number of inmates jailed for drug convictions has almost doubled over the past decade, a result of unsparing sentencing that puts even petty users behind bars.
"We need to change sentencing and make a distinction between small and big-time dealers," Klong Prem prison commander Thawatchai Chaiywat told Reuters.
He clearly knows what he is talking about.
The prison he runs is home to 6,267 inmates serving sentences that range from 15 years to life, with 64 per cent convicted of drug crimes.
A typical cell measures 1.5m by 3m and sleeps five inmates, side by side on dark blue mattresses on the floor.
"Some of the men, especially the foreign prisoners, are pretty big, so it is a squeeze for them," said one prison guard.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of inmates in Thai jails as of this month. Seventy per cent of these offenders have been jailed for drug offences