The new facility under construction on 108 rai at Baan Bangjo in Srisoonthorn was originally slated by contract for completion by July 14 this year – ironically, Bastille Day – but the project got off to a late start while the earthworks for the site were completed.
Construction is making good progress now, Prison Director Somkhit Khammang said this week, though admitting that prisoners would not likely be moved into the new facility until about June 2019, at the earliest.
“The overall project is now 40% complete and the structures themselves are about 80% complete,” Mr Somkhit said.
“We have applied for a formal extension to the deadline, as the project has been delayed (during the initial stage of construction) by the (southwest) monsoon and a lack of workers,” he explained.
The government contract to build the new prison was signed on July 30, 2015, but the first pile was not driven into the ground until February 2016, he added.
“The contractors assigned to complete the project are Sor Ruedeesongtham Ruamkit Limited Partnership and Construction Exclusiveness Co Ltd,” Mr Somkhit confirmed.
The current prison, built in Phuket Town in 1902 and worthy of preservation as a building of historical value, was originally designed to accommodate only 750 prisoners. Later modifications increased the jail’s capacity, but not to accommodate the more than 2,700 inmates currently incarcerated there.
“We have about 2,300 male prisoners and about 400 female prisoners – and even a one-month-old baby girl. That’s more than twice the number of prisoners that the prison can handle,” Mr Somkhit said.
The new prison at Bangjo is costing B789 million to build, down from the original budget of B1.1 billion, when authorities were looking to gift Phuket the best prison in the country.
The new prison will still deliver more space for prisoners who will be kept detained through full modern security features, Mr Somkhit assured.
“Bangjo Prison will be more comfortable than the Phuket Provincial Prison. There will be many ‘bedrooms’ (dormitory-style cells) of either 8mx12m or 12mx12m, with not more than 20 to 30 prisoners in each room,” he said.
“It will not be as crowded as it is now,” he noted, but added, “Food will be the same standard as it is now.”
Local residents, who have approved the project through public feedback meetings, should feel safe, too, he added.
“We are very sure that there will be no prison break. The only problem at the Phuket Provincial Prison is that it is crowded,” Mr Somkhit explained.
“Also, transferring prisoners from the Phuket Provincial Prison to the Bangjo Prison will take only one day. We will ask the Region 8 Prison in Krabi for assistance with the transportation,” he said.
Mr Somkhit noted that a request has been sent to his superiors asking for permission to make the new Bangjo prison a “men’s only” facility, with women to remain at the century-old jail in Phuket Town.
A formal reply has yet to be received.
Meanwhile, the socialisation program for outbound inmates coming to the end of their sentences will continue, Mr Somkhit said, as the old Bangjo prison facility used to house such prisoners before they were released back into society
“The highest goal of the prison is to conduct activities to support jobs for prisoners so they can use these skills after they are released,” he said.
“For male prisoners, we place them in jobs working with wood and cement. For female prisoners, we provide training in tourism hospitality and hotel studies and for them to learn English, as well as other skills such as creating handmade items.
“We are now in the process of taking good prisoners to work at furniture factories. They will be transferred there and brought back to the prison every day.
“Some operators have contacted us to offer jobs to some inmates so they can earn money by making fishing nets and sewing clothes. This is good for them. Any operators who want prisoners to do any jobs at the prison can contact us,” Mr Somkhit explained.
Despite the cramped conditions at the current Phuket Prison, Mr Somkhit assures that prisoners there are being treated as well as they could be.
The prison wardens even recognise Christmas, he added.
“Each year we have an 80-centimetre Christmas tree to decorate for Christmas Day.
“We pay attention to even small celebrations for prisoners as we respect every religion,” Mr Somkhit said.