The Department of Corrections is considering granting more prisoners parole or offering them a reduction in their sentences to ease overcrowding and the rising number of new COVID-19 infections in its prisons.
Certain rules will have to be amended to allow this special parole and sentence reduction programme, which is intended mainly for old prisoners and those with a life-threatening disease, said Aryut Sinthopphan, director-general of the department, on Wednesday.
Mr Sinthopphan said criminal suspects being detained in prison while fighting their cases will also be supported for getting bail.
The department on Wednesday recorded 1,117 new cases of COVID-19, detected in 11 prisons and detention facilities across the country, he said, adding that a total of 12,767 inmates confirmed to have COVID-19 are receiving treatment.
There are currently only two prisons where COVID-19 has yet to be found: Narathiwat provincial prison and Mae Sot district prison in Tak, he said.
“All prisons and detention facilities are being instructed to prepare solutions to deal with possible outbreaks of COVID-19 by setting up their own field hospitals and centres for COVID-19 situation administration,” he said.
“They are also instructed to focus on screening all inmates for COVID-19 and getting everyone who is confirmed to have the virus to undergo a lung X-ray to determine if he or she needs antiviral treatment.”
He added that all prison officers are also subject to COVID-19 tests and anyone who has a runny nose will instantly need a swab test too.
Moreover, all prisons and detention facilities are required to inform the families of all COVID-19 infected detainees by phone to keep them updated about their relative’s health.
“The department is strictly implementing the so-called ‘Bubble and Seal’ measure to prevent transmissions of COVID-19 into and from all prisons,” he said.
“Any prison officers who are found to be carriers of the disease and have infected others in prison will face a disciplinary probe and action.”
Meanwhile, Rachada Dhnadirek, deputy government spokeswoman, said the government is preparing hospitals for handling infected prisoners.
Ms Dhnadirek said if prisons do not have sufficient space to set up their own field hospitals on the premises, other places such as temporary detention facilities and old prisons nearby may be converted into field hospitals to treat infected prisoners.
She said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had assured that all people infected, including prisoners, will be treated equally.
Suwat Thep-arak, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, expressed concern over the need to better protect the rights, health and lives of prisoners in the face of the fierce COVID-19 outbreak in many prisons. He called on the government to give prisoners priority in its mass vaccination drive as it seeks to protect the population.