By Pratch Rujivanarom
SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE and employment are the major factors that determine whether prisoners will successfully reintegrate into society and not reoffend, a seminar on prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration has concluded.
The Justice Ministry seminar titled “Beyond the Prison Walls: Multi-stakeholder Perspectives on Prisoner Rehabilitation and Reintegration” was held by the Thailand Institute of Justice yesterday.
Participants heard that authorities consider prisons as rehabilitation institutions to return good citizens to society, while a new agency will be established to help ex-convicts adjust to the world outside of prison.
The seminar also heard that there were many challenges to reintroduce former prisoners into society, such as social bias against ex-convicts and a lack of a proper monitoring system to prevent them from reoffending.
Wittaya Suriyawong, Justice Ministry deputy permanent secretary, said punishment had limitations even though imprisonment was an important mechanism in the criminal justice system.
“The concept of prison is changing over time, as a place to separate bad people, a hospital to treat the bad behaviour of criminals, to a school to teach them. Thai authorities have also changed the idea of prison and consider it as a place to rehabilitate convicts and return good citizens to society,” Wittaya said.
He said past experiences from the war on drugs showed a steep increase in the number of prisoners, but authorities had learned that heavy prison sentences for narcotic offenders were not only ineffective in suppressing the drug problem, but also led to overcrowded prisons.
According to the Corrections Department, the overall number of prisoners in Thailand as of December 1 was 319,561, with 235,373 convicted under the Narcotics Act.
Wittaya said long jail terms also did not help change the behaviour of prisoners, because people in difficult circumstances would get used to their situations.
He added that the Justice Ministry was planning to open a new agency, which would exclusively work with stakeholders for the smooth reintegration of former prisoners into society.
However, Corrections Department director-general Pol Colonel Narat Sawettanan said there were many obstructions to the effort, as prisoners were regarded by many people as bad people and threats to society because of misunderstandings and bias. Narat said strong social bias against ex-convicts alienated them and denied them employment opportunities, which made them more vulnerable to repeating their offence.
According to the Justice Ministry report, in 2014 there was a 14-per-cent rate of re-offending within one year, while 27 per cent committed an offence within three years of their release. Economic and social factors and a lack of social acceptance were found to be major causes.
Employment opportunities were a key factor in more effective social reintegration and reducing the risk of repeat offences.
Narat also said there were still no regulations to create incentives for businesses to employ ex-convicts and the probation system did not have the ability to monitor former prisoners.