Early-release for ex-doctor on Thailand's death row raises questions

Early-release for ex-doctor on Thailand's death row raises questions
Wisut Boonkasemsanti killed his estranged wife and dismembered her in 2001.

Thailand's death sentence has become a hot topic again after the death sentence of former gynaecologist Dr Wisut Boonkasemsanti, who killed his estranged wife and dismembered her in 2001, was commuted to only 10 years, seven months and 25 days in jail due to pardons for his good behaviour.

Under a punishment suspension project for a special occasion, Wisut was released from Bang Kwang Prison after seven years, earlier this week, before his jail term could be completed in September 2017, while he would be on probation for the rest of his prison term.

Wisut was among many death-row inmates who were granted early release. Others included Serm Sakhonrat, who had murdered and dismembered his girlfriend while he was a medical student.

Serm received the sentence reduction five times from 2004-2011 and hence served only eight years behind bars and was released December 2011.

The three special occasions in 2010, 2011 and 2012 led to sentence reductions for inmates; death-row convicts for general crimes saw their punishment reduced to life sentence in 2010; further reduced to 50 years in prison in 2011, and to 25 years in 2012. Death-row inmates on drug charges would generally serve 18-20 years behind bars.

Although penologists claim that a 15-year jail term would destroy a convict's potential to commit crimes, that might not apply to criminal offenders aged 20-25. After a 15-year jail term, they would be released at the age of 40 and would still have the potential to commit crimes.

There were other serious criminals who also had their sentences commuted and thus would be free in years, such as Somkid Pumpoung - "Thailand's Jack the Ripper" - who was convicted for robbing and killing five sex workers.

In Thailand, the jail term includes the time spent by the accused in detention pending the trial. Thailand has three courts - primary, appeals and supreme. As the finalisation of the court ruling would take about 7-8 years, by the time the final sentence is pronounced the convict might not spend much longer in jail because the detention period is deemed as part of the sentence.

When an inmate, also a first-timer to get a jail term, enters a prison, he/she would be a "middle-rank" inmate. When the inmate does good deeds such as working in prison and not creating any problem for two years, he/she would be promoted to an "excellent" inmate. Inmates who risk their lives to aid state officials during a riot would be promoted to "excellent" inmate faster. Inmates who violated prison regulations or discipline would be demoted to "poor" or "very poor" inmates.

The general pardon to be given to inmates would provide different reduction rates. For example, an "excellent" inmate would see his/her sentence slashed by half and a "middle-rank" inmate would see sentence commuted by one-fourth, while an "excellent" inmate for a drug charge would see a lower reduction at only one-fourth or one-fifth. The "poor" and "very poor" inmates would not get a pardon, a jail time reduction or a punishment suspension. The jail time reduction and punishment suspension are reserved for "excellent" inmates who were jailed for the first time and had less than five years to serve.

From October 2013 to June 2014, a total of 18,292 inmates saw their punishments suspended, while 17,757 inmates saw their sentences commuted.

Regarding the concerns of society that the convicts might repeat their offences, it was reported that 15 per cent of convicts in Thailand were later arrested for crimes - compared to 40 per cent in the United States. While many people back the "revenge theory" to punish offenders harshly as they "deserved", others say it is important to give the people - especially those without a criminal nature - a chance to turn over a new leaf and become a good member of society.

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