Editorial Notes

"Take the Bangkok Rules out of the Table and Bring Them to Prison"

                                                                                                                                               Nathee Chitsawang


        Now it is widely accepted that working in accordance with the international standards is very important and indispensable for prison work and the public image of correctional services in all countries, as once argued by Fyodor Dostoevsky,the famous Russian novelist, that“the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons”. Having said that, the implementation of these international standards must also consider the social context of each country. For instance,the nations in Asia have unique culture and type of weather different from those in the western world. Therefore the implementation of such standards has to take into account of various differences.In Thailand, it is normally found that the implementation of the international standards usually encounters some difficulties,such as budget constraint; and differences in social and cultural contexts. In fact,these are repeatedly claimed by many practitioners in Thai corrections, saying that they are factors leading to the failure of reaching the standards.


        Accordingly, TIJ has cooperated with the Thailand’s Department of Corrections to establish the project called “the Model of Prison in Implementing the Bangkok Rules” which is one of the United Nations international Standards. The Bangkok Rules Model Prison project is launched in the prisons which have many limitations and seem to be incapable of working in compliance with the Bangkok Rules. Once , they succeed,it is believed that other prisons will be able to see these prisons as the good models in terms of the fact that they are able to achieve the international standards in spite of their numerous limitations and difficulties. In undertaking this project, TIJ has worked closely with Thailand’s Department of Corrections to set up the tool for assessing the implementation of the Bangkok Rules,especially those parts relevant to the prison work in correctional settings. The indicators are modified to respond to the context in Thailand focusing on the following areas: prison policy, admission and registration, hygiene and health care, safety and security, contact with the outside world, inmate classification, special categories inmates, pregnant women and mother with children in prison and pre-release program. Overall, there are altogether 165 indicators.


        The project on ‘Bangkok Rules Model Prison’ is about an implementation of the United Nations Rules on the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures on the Female Offenders, or the Bangkok Rules, in correctional establishments within the context of the Thai society. Despite all the difficulties in conforming to the rules in terms of the considerably aged buildings of prisons and the shortages of budget and staff, it seems quite possible to implement the Bangkok Rules. In fact, the most significant factor behind the successful implementation of the Bangkok Rules is how the prison officers properly treat and work with the inmates, whereas the physical condition and environment of prison settings are just minor components.


        As a result, in implementing the Bangkok Rules, the staff development has to be emphasized because the prison officers are those working directly with the female inmates. The target group of the staff training shall include all officers performing prison work in women’s correctional institutions or units for female inmates, as well as the directors of those prisons who are the highest executives of prisons. Interestingly, there is a new pattern of training program which is a type of learning in the real settings instead of studying in a classroom. By doing this, the officers are encouraged to have a site visit at women’s prisons or women’s units in men’s correctional facilities. It is hoped that the trained staff will be able to memorize, understand and well adapt the good or best practices in accordance with the Bangkok Rules to be used in their own prisons. Besides, during each site visit, there will be a seminar to exchange views on the difficulties in implementing the Bangkok Rules and to propose the possible approaches to overcome these obstacles. On top of that, there will be an evaluation on the progress with the implementation of the Bangkok Rules by conducting a survey of trained participants. After receiving 3 – 4 visits, prisons officers can go back to their prisons to bring Bangkok Rules into action and after that a prison will be assessed by the experts according to the form of 165-item assessment developed by the Penal Reform International, together with Thailand’s Department of Corrections and TIJ. If a prison can pass this assessment, it will be announced as the role model of Thai prison implementing the Bangkok Rules.


       To sustain the successful implementation of the Bangkok Rules in a prison which is selected as the role model, it is crucial to focus on the prison officers performing their tasks in the women’s units or female prisons because they work directly with the female inmates. They should be provided with an opportunity to visit other countries’ prisons to broaden their knowledge and experiences by seeing and learning the good practices. In reality, it is found that most of them have never had this sort of chance before. More importantly, this could be a direct inspiration for them to think and apply the Bangkok Rules by an approach called ‘an explosion from the inside’ which is a method to learn from other prisons in terms of both good practices and mistakes, and adopt what they have learned to their own prisons. As such, the implementation of the Bangkok Rules will be permanent and sustainable due to the fact that it comes from the officers themselves, not from the orders or powerful force from their prison commanders and authorities.To put is imply, the officers can learn by themselves from other work colleagues. By doing this way, it is easier for them to change the mindset and open their mind to new standards.


        As for the prisons which will be selected as the role models of prisons implementing the Bangkok Rules, they can be generally divided into 3 types: 1) 8 women’s correctional institutions which detain all female inmates (ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 inmates each); 2) the female inmates’ units situated in 10 large men’s prisons (approx. 500 – 1,000 inmates each); and 3) the female inmates’ units established in 90 small and old male prisons (between 50 and 300 inmates each). In 2015, AyutthayaProvincial Prison, Uthai-ThaniProvincial Prison and Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional institution were selected as UN Bangkok Rules Model Prison.


        These role models of prisons implementing the Bangkok Rules will be the prime target as the right place and training venue for prison staff from other correctional institutions to visit and learn. By doing this, the officers will be able to develop their own prisons and to realize how they can achieve the appropriate and successful implementation of the Bangkok Rules despite many kinds of limitations.It is highly expected that there will be more prisons that can fulfil the Bangkok Rules criteria and become the Bangkok Rules Model Prisons in the near future. Eventually, the Bangkok Rules can go beyond the ivory tower; therefore they are not just the printed standards or guidelines on paper. As a matter of fact, the Bangkok Rules,at this time, become practically connected and effectively implemented as well as provided with an enough room for academic and theoretical discussion. Thus, this is the right time to bring the Bangkok Rules to life by making them really happen to the world inside the prison walls.