'Supermax' jail counters drug trafficking

'Supermax' jail counters drug trafficking
Thai police at a control room in the prison.

JUSTICE Minister General Paiboon Koomchaya says the authorities will eradicate drug trafficking at Ratchaburi's Khao Bin Prison following the establishment of a super-maximum security section at the facility.

In keeping with Paiboon's emphasis on inmate rehabilitation, the prison has adjusted its other zone, Area 9, to be a special detention facility to support "supermax" inmates who pass a behavioural assessment.

It is hoped the move will help reduce prisoner stress levels and serve as an incentive for inmates to behave better.

Tackling drug dealing from behind bars has been among Paiboon's top policy priorities because it involves large drug trafficking networks. And despite Khao Bin being a high security facility, it was discovered on various occasions that inmates managed to get cellphones to communicate with the outside world.

One year since the supermax zone was established inside the prison's Area 6, Paiboon recently led a press visit to see how this zone - which blocks phone signals - has helped tackle the issue of inmates dealing drugs. The facility houses 220 major drug convicts.

As the media bus entered the prison, all cellphone signals disappeared. The signal-jamming device's coverage seems to go several kilometres beyond the prison's inner area.

Upon entering the first fence at the inner area, a thorough body search was conducted to prevent visitors bringing cash, weapons or any kind of communications device into the prison.

The second fence is equipped with a body-scan device, which yields x-ray-like images, so officials can digitally detect whether a person has swallowed or hidden in the body objects that are prohibited.

Area 6 is a three-storey building with a half-circle-shaped control area where the warden's office is located.

Its two wings house inmates on the second floor while the third floor features a common room, a canteen, a reading room and a futsal-size field for exercising. The ground floor was closed for general use.

Supermax inmates are not allowed to undergo vocational training to prevent them from smuggling anything into the area.

Items sent to inmates are examined by an x-ray machine, while visitors - who can visit up to twice a week - speak to inmates via a video conference call, resulting in a rather quiet atmosphere. Time seems to move slower in the supermax section than it does at other prisons.

Prison guards monitor inmates via 100 CCTV cameras, so there are no blind spots.

Guards speak to inmates via speakers in order to prevent officials from unnecessarily engaging with inmates and, thus, reducing the chances of guards being bribed.

All doors are opened and closed by an electronic system, which is reinforced by an electronic key-card system.

Paiboon and the media were shown the cells of general inmates, as well as those in the 13 solitary confinement cells - which had a bed, a table, a shower and toilet and a slot in the door for food to be served. Some of the inmates shouted through the doors' food slots to chat with other inmates.

The supermax section requires inmates to shower twice a week and the shower's camera is positioned at a high angle for control benefits.

As the press tour drew close, Paiboon told media members that the supermax still had 70 vacancies.

He has instructed the Corrections Department to select major drug inmates, and those who had arranged for cellphones to be smuggled in to prisons so they could be rented, to fill those vacancies.

Paiboon plans to push for supermax zones to be established at Phitsanulok Central Prison, Nakhon Si Thammarat Central Prison and Klong Phai Central Prison.

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