RESEARCHERS at a forum on reform of women's prisons presented five policies yesterday on how to transform the "unpleasant conditions" in these jails into caring communities.
The forum entitled "Proposals to reform the female prison: reality and imagination" aimed, firstly, for inmates to return to society as good citizens.
The five proposals submitted were: solve overcrowding, promote basic healthcare and good living conditions for prisoners, train warders to understand gender sensitivity and respect prisoners as people, prepare them for parole, and return foreign prisoners to their home countries.
Kittiya Ashawanichakul, head of the researchers group, said the first thing that must be done was to reduce the problem of overcrowding in the jails.
"Crowded conditions caused female inmates to live in unpleasant and unsanitary conditions, leading to many physical and mental health problems," Kittiya said.
"Healthcare must also be improved as some jails for females have only one nurse to take care of all the inmates. I think the Public Health Ministry should co-operate with the Corrections Department on this issue."
She said warders' roles needed reforming too.
"The warders should be well-trained to look after female inmates. The use of disciplinary power must be reduced and the relationship between prison officers and prisoners be more [equal,]" she explained.
In preparing prisoners for living in the outside world, Kittiya said the Justice Ministry must work more with the community to strengthen both the justice and probation systems.
For the final proposal, she advised the country to take a proactive approach in dealing with other countries to exchange criminals.
Researcher Napaporn Havanon said that by implementing these proposals, prisons would change from institutions that reduce the human dignity of inmates to caring communities where a prisoner's values were respected.
Napaporn pointed out that among the major problems within prisons were the ways that prisoners were monitored and live to a strict timetable which makes them feel lowly, ashamed and unvalued. This lead them to disrespect themselves and others.
Corrections Department director Vitaya Suriyawong said the penal system was planned to accommodate a ratio of only five per cent of total inmates being women. But the ratio of female prisoners to male inmates was 14.5 per cent.
The department said Thailand had 47,623 women prisoners in February, which is the fourth highest in the world and the most per head of population.
"The number of new female prisoners is increasing every year; we cannot accommodate them all properly. Also, only 15 per cent were convicted of serious crimes and should be in jail - the other 85 per cent were accused of minor crimes," Vitaya said.
The discussion forum at Rama Gardens Hotel Bangkok was held by the Thai Association of Population and Social Researchers, Mahidol University and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation.