Thailand's prisons rocked by sex scandals

Thailand's prisons rocked by sex scandals
PHOTO: Reuters

Forbidden relationships behind bars have led to the dismissal of some Thai jail warders, according to the country's prisons boss.

Fourteen officers were included in the Corrections Department's December 1 list of dismissals after they were found guilty of serious misconduct, ranging from taking bribes from inmates to embezzlement and enabling sex in the cellblocks.

Hinting that more warders might be dismissed in this fiscal year 2018, department chief Narat Sawetanan said such dismissals take place every year because prisons were places of vice. He noted that the ratio of warders to inmates in Thai jails was one to 32 - a far cry from the international standard of one to five. This inevitably meant more mingling between officers and prisoners, leaving greater opportunities for misconduct.

He also noted that years of living in same-sex captivity could lead straight men or women to develop homosexual relationships with other inmates. This happened despite measures - including easy-to-monitor open floor plans and half-doors on toilets - to prevent sexual activity.

Free condoms from the Public Health Ministry are placed in men's toilets in prisons, not to encourage sex but to ensure safe sex to prevent HIV/Aids and other STDs.

Narat said that prison officers also had to monitor shared cells with female couples "sleeping too close under the same blanket".

But sex in prison led to the dismissal of some warders who smuggled lovers' gifts or alcohol for jailhouse "weddings", or arranged sexual encounters.

In one case, a female warder allowed three male inmates to have sex with their girlfriends in the female detention zone's toilets at a jail in Lop Buri's Chai Badan district in exchange for a payment of Bt8,000 (S$330) per couple.

Gossip among inmates about sex in the toilets led to an inquiry that discovered evidence on CCTV footage. The inmate couples confessed that they met during prison activities and wished to take their romance to another level. So the men, with the help of a warder, were escorted to "repair a broken facility within the female detention zone's toilets", where they had sex with their girlfriends.

The warder in question admitted to having arranged such a meeting to get money to curb her financial problems. She was fired and prosecuted, changing her own status to that of an inmate.

In another case, a warder was caught smuggling in a bottle of brandy for the "wedding" of two male inmates in exchange for Bt2,000. Other warders smuggled in gold rings for the lovers to seal their relationships or cash to pay the "dowry".

Out of the 14 punished warders, 13 were dismissed without a pension while one was dismissed with entitlement. Eleven of the 13 also faced criminal charges, while the other two were fired for absence from official duty for more than 15 days.

Other misconduct included the embezzlement of prison earnings of Bt601,202, implication in the corruption of salary and allowance payments worth Bt4,995,037, taking bribes from prisoners over the seizure of mobile phones, taking bribes to allow inmates to gamble, allowing amulet trading, and involvement in the smuggling of drugs and mobile phones.

Despite officials' attempts to keep prisons free from illegal items or deeds, the weak link seems to be the minority of warders who go astray. But, as the recent dismissals demonstrate, department head Narat is determined to keep prisons transparent and corruption-free by removing any officers who give in to greed.

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