Last November, construction of the new prison was on schedule for completion by May this year, but COVID-19 interfered with the contractor finishing the buildings, then the many days of rain this year caused further delays, Phuket Provincial Prison Commissioner Suchart Silapachai told The Phuket News this week.
Even that opening deadline was already delayed after the prison, located on 108 rai in Bangjo, was initially expected to be completed by late last year.
“Right now the project is 98% complete. We are nearly done. It will be finished next month, and prisoners will be moved there in January next year,” Mr Suchart said.
“The remaining 2% that still needs to be finished includes the electrical and security systems. After that is done, we will transfer some prisoners to stay in the new prison so we can test the systems inside. I want to make sure that the security systems work well. We will test them for about four months,” he added.
Mr Suchart said that he had already submitted his plan for the transfer of prisoners to the new facility to his Department of Corrections superiors.
“All the inmates at the prison in Phuket Town are to be moved to the new prison in January next year, but before we do that we will need up to 150 more officers [including jail guards and administrative officials] to fully staff the new place,” Mr Suchart said.
As the current Phuket Provincial Prison is Phuket Town is not rated as having high enough security to house long-term inmates, any prisoners sentenced in Phuket to more than 15 years jail are automatically transferred to higher-security prisons in other provinces.
That practice will cease with the opening of the new prison, which is rated to house inmates serving sentences up to 30 years, Mr Suchart said.
“Prisoners sentenced to long jail terms in Phuket but who have been transferred to Krabi and Surat Thani will be transferred to the new Phuket prison,” he said.
Mr Suchart touted that the new prison was “high-tech”.
“Escape is impossible,” he said.
“The fence is about seven metres high, and anyone who touches it will trigger sensors which will activate CCTV cameras to immediately lock on to that area,” he said, adding that there were many other ‘high-tech’ security features at the prison.
More importantly for the inmates, the new prison will help alleviate the overcrowded conditions that have been suffered at the existing prison in Phuket Town for decades.
The official capacity of the current prison is 283 female prisoners and 945 male prisoners, Mr Suchart confirmed.
However, as of November last year there were 461 female prisoners and 2,239 male prisoners at the prison.
Since then, the prison population has grown further. Today there are 520 female prisoners and 2,308 male prisoners at the prison in Phuket Town.
“Currently it is so cramped at the existing prison, but the new prison is nearly ready. Once the new prison is completed, it can hold 4,000-5,000 prisoners,” he said.
“All the dormitory buildings are finished. There are a total of 180 rooms of mixed sizes, separate dormitories for male and female prisoners and eight different zones for prisoners, depending on their crime,” Mr Suchart said.
“The prisoners’ sleeping areas will be more comfortable with fans. Each room is able to sleep from 25 to 30 prisoners,” he added.
However, there will be no beds. Prisoners will sleep on individual rubber mattresses on the floor. Also, the area on the floor for each prisoner to sleep will be little more than the space they will occupy.
“They will have at least 50cm across by 180-200cm per person guaranteed, likely or more,” Mr Suchart explained.
Regardless, according to Mr Suchart, added, “It is more space than they have at the present prison.”
Mr Suchart also noted that the medical facilities at the prison comprise 46 beds in the infirmary, with nurses on duty each day and doctors visiting monthly. Any inmates needing urgent medical care will be taken to a main government hospital under guard, he added.
As for the old prison in Phuket Town, built in 1902 and originally designed to accommodate only 750 prisoners, Mr Suchart said he would like to see the site used as an educational or skills training centre for inmates.
“Or as a place where prisoners who are soon to be released can learn skills and prepare to make a living after prison life,” he said.