Criminals may be cruel, but should society also be cruel?

Thailand’s prisons aren’t the worst globally, but prison conditions are notorious enough to warrant a few Hollywood movies such as 2017’s A Prayer Before Dawn and 1999’s Brokedown Palace.

Watch “Thailand’s Toughest Prison, Bangkwang” documentary on Youtube, and you will see the “inhumane” living condition, packing tens of inmates in a cell, like a sardine can. The prison is nicknamed “The real Bangkok Hilton.”

In over one year of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Thailand’s prisons have become the most significant clusters, recording thousands of infections per day. Why wouldn’t it?

How do you practice social distancing when perhaps one inch spread you from the two persons sleeping next to you in a cell of up to 30 inmates or more? Then there are the feet of the row above you and the heads of the row below you.

Prison overcrowding is a real problem. The documentary quoted Thai officials saying 63% of inmates have mental issues, and one out of 10 is suicidal.

On 17 May, former Pheu Thai politician and Bangkok Governor hopeful Chatchart Sittiphan revealed the Corrections Department’s budget for combatting COVID-19 is 750,000 baht for 142 prisons. That’s 3,000 to 10,000 baht per prison for 310,000 inmates, calculated to 2.41 baht per inmate. That’s how much each life is worth.

Why are prison conditions “horrendous” and the treatment of prisoners “inhumane”?

Because inmates deserve it, that’s the prevailing social belief.

There are activists and corrections officers trying to better the prison system. The concept of rehabilitation is being pushed. Nonetheless, society’s prevailing belief is that prisons are for punishment, not rehabilitation; inmates should suffer rather than receive humane treatment.

It speaks of a cultural mindset that is cruel and hateful. Those who support or do not mind the inhumane treatment of prisoners argue that inmates are cruel and hateful. Therefore they deserve to suffer.

Definitely, prisons shouldn’t be a Hilton suite, and many inmates are cruel and hateful. But if government policies, prison conditions, and cultural values are also cruel and hateful, then the sum is a society that is cruel and hateful.

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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