Bangkok (Thailand), 16 June 2021 - As part of ongoing COVID-19 assistance to prison systems in Southeast and South Asia, and in response to a recent outbreak of the virus in the Thai prison system, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has provided 1,500,000 surgical masks to the Thai Department of Corrections.
Surgical masks were prioritized during recent consultations with Thai authorities on pandemic preparedness following reports that thousands of inmates were found to be infected with COVID-19. The Thai prison system has had an overcrowding challenge for many years with more than 310,000 inmates held in Thai prisons at the end of May, and factors contributing to the high population have been receiving increasing public attention during the pandemic.
At the handover of the masks UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas remarked, “addressing immediate health needs is the priority today, and we will continue to do what we can to help make sure prison inmates and staff are protected from the pandemic.” He added, “We are also advising on measures to reduce overcrowding in the Thai prison system, including the drug law and policy, and identifying alternatives to imprisonment that can work for Thailand. Both our pandemic response and policy work have been made possible with support from the Government of the United States –this has been particularly important for Thailand and the region in recent months.”
UNODC has been supported by the Government of the United States to help Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand in Southeast Asia, and Bangladesh, the Maldives and Sri Lanka in South Asia with pandemic response in prisons, and to develop longer term plans for correctional systems during health emergencies including outbreaks of communicable diseases. The United States has also been supporting UNODC to assist Thailand to review and update the national drug law and sentencing guidelines to reduce the prison population in the country over time. Over 80% of inmates in Thailand are incarcerated for drug offences, and in the case of female inmates it is approximately 85%.
Chargé d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in Thailand Michael Heath commented, “we are honoured to support our Thai allies fight COVID with these 1.5 million masks for the Ministry of Justice and vulnerable prison populations. Our two countries have a long history of both law enforcement and health cooperation. We have nine U.S. law enforcement agencies cooperating with Thailand on a daily basis, and over 600 members of our Embassy staff work in health-related fields here in Thailand with a global impact.”
Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsuthin remarked while meeting with UNODC and a representative of the US Embassy, “we appreciate UNODC’s quick response to the COVID-19 outbreak in our prisons, and for advising on longer term reform measures to reduce the prison population. We have very good long-standing relations with both the UNODC and the United States, and while the situation has been challenging it has also been helpful to work with our international partners on immediate protection and longer-term solutions.”
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