21 December 2018 marks the 8th year anniversary of the Bangkok Rules. Despite prisoners’ regulations being in place since 1955, the gender dimension in the prison setting has historically been neglected. The Bangkok Rules were therefore introduced as a standard for the treatment of female prisoners. Initially born as the ‘Kamlangjai’ (Inspire) project, the idea first came from Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha who deeply cared aboutfemale prisoners especially, pregnant women and those with children. The Inspire project adopted a problem-solving approach and took a form of collaboration between the public and private sector. The model was first presented to international audience at the UN conference in 2007 leading to the adoption of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) by the UN General Assembly in 2010.
In the past 8 years, 12 prisons in Thailand have been recognized as model prisons. TIJ in collaboration with the Department of Corrections have applied and promoted the use of the Non-Custodial Measuresset out in the Bangkok Rules. In addition, Nakhon Ratchasima Central Prison and Rattanaburi Prison in Surin province received the award for model prisons in 2018. Furthermore, threeorganizations were granted the ‘Crafting Hope Awards in recognition for their good work in support offormer offenders i.e.,‘Leela Thai Massage’ in Chiang Mai,"SHE (Social Health Enterprise)", the Halfway House and the Christian Prison Mission Foundation
Addressing the Opening Ceremony of the Anniversary event, Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong,Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, affirmed: ‘The 8thanniversary celebration of The Bangkok Rules is a good opportunity for every sector to review past work and plan steps ahead to help offenders start a new life. The Bangkok Rules set a new benchmark for the justice system as they align with international standards. In the future, Thailand should strengthen regional cooperation to tackle criminal justice problems more effectivelyand call for cooperation from all sectors, especially civil society.”
Prof. Dr. Kittipong Kittayarak, Executive Director, Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ), said “The issue of prison and offenders is a multi-dimensional one and we must consider 3 different perspectives.“Inside Prison”shall adopt a gender sensitive management approach and focus on preparing prisoners for their life ahead after release. ‘Beyond Prison’deals with offenders’ reintegration into their communities and offers them support to develop the personal strength and skills needed to face a new life. Lastly, ‘Besides Prison’focuses on alternatives such as non-custodial measures and imprisonment should be considered as the last resort since it greatly impacts communities, families, elderly, parents and children. It is time that all sectors work together to tackle these issues in a sustainable way”
The first panel discussion under the topic “Beyond Prison: Enhancing Opportunities for Social Reintegration” was joined by experts with direct experience in the Bangkok Rules implementation and practical initiatives such as The Chan Land Project – in Chanthaburi which is deemed to become a new tourist highlight.The project provides offenders who return to their community with employment opportunities so that they can support themselves and prevent re-offending.
"The key to success of the Chan Land project is community engagement in the reintegration process by creating public awareness on offenders ability to rebuild their lives, harmoniously be a part of society and respect the rule of law. This perspective certainly breaks the wall between prison and community. Activities in the area of over 10 rai of Chan Land create opportunities and provide jobs for former prisoners in bakeries and coffee shops, organic vegetables plantations, the Khi Kai Prisons in Chanthaburi, shops and museums. If they can earn a stable income and take care of their families, there is no need for them to commit a crime” said Mr. Charn Wachiradech, Prison Warden of Chanthaburi Prison.
Dr. Poonchai Chitanuntavitaya, Chief Medical Officer of Social Health Enterprise (SHE),has provided opportunities for offenders through the sustainability-oriented project ‘SHE’ - a community health social enterprise which was set up to help former prisoners secure their jobs. The Body Adjustment Innovation by Dr. Poonchai can prevent office syndrome and eliminate work stress. It provided stability for over 5,000 prisoners who need a proper job after their release. The‘SHE’ project sets and example of existing good practices in society and moving beyond judging inmates by their past.
Nevertheless, many inmates still need the help and support from the public, private sector, civil society, as well as communities and local authorities as the "Doi Hang Model" showed. The project tracked the daily life of groups at risk of recidivism and proved that among the main causes of wrongdoing are drugs and alcohol. In addition, social pressure and influence from peers and their loved ones play a role. Beside awareness raising and community network strengthening, local leaders should be called upon to accept the reintegration process and fully take part in it.
Media is also a vital actor in bringing prisoners’ stories to public attention. Despite, the picture projected is essentially a portrait of desperation, disheartenment and violence that generates more negative thoughts in those who are not aware of life behind bars. In reality, prisoners’ life encompasses many dimensions such as love, relationships and strong bonds created among inmates. Media has the responsibility to create a narrative that explores which can help make the public more knowledgeable and empathize with prisoners.
The afternoon seminar saw participants sharing views on the topic of ‘Besides Prison’ with a focus on non-custodial measures. Dr. Barbara Owen, American Criminologist and expert in the treatment of women prisoners, told the audience that the primary cause of offending amongst women is inequality. The Bangkok Rules is set as a standard for the fair treatment of female prisoners and focuses on post-custodial measures as a solution for a smooth transition from prison r to the community. Solutions must therefore look beyond prison to a real engagement with the community and families. Authorities should also take part in researching the cause of problems and monitoring community practices. Non-Custodial measures can serve as a way to overcome prison overcrowding and create a positive effect in country’s economy.
In Thailand, the use of non-custodial measures accounts for 85%among the court decisions in Thailand. During the justice process, the court usually relies on alternatives than imprisonment. Release on bail is granted to those who have been imprisoned for a term of not more than 5 years. Other alternatives includes probation, community service, and the use of electronic monitoring bracelet known as EM. All options can reduce the problem of overcrowding and remove the burden on both state and citizens.
In many parts of the word ‘Restorative Justice’ is applied as a substitute to the old concept of ‘Retributive Justice’. Restorative Justice (RJ) aims to solve problems using reconciliation processes between the victim and the wrongdoer. It also seeks to engage individuals and communities affected by crime, to take part in the problem-solving process by making use of techniques such as, mediation, reconciliation or group meetings. According to the RJ principle, every affected party plays a role and takes active part in the reconciliation to finally restore peace and harmony among the actors involved. The offender will get to make amends for the harm committed before any legal process.
"People who commit offences are a product of society which must take responsibility and welcome them back. Therefore, we should all work to create a society that offers opportunities to people, a society that does not leave anyone behind, a society that wants to grow together sustainably," Prof. Dr. Kittipong concluded.
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