The project was announced at an ‘all-star’ press conference held at The Pago Design Hotel on Rassada Rd in Phuket Town yesterday (Apr 21).
Headlining the press conference was Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew, joined by Phuket Vice Governor Anupap Rodkwan Yodrabam and Chief Administrative Officer of the Phuket Provincial Office (Palad) Somprat Prabsongkhram.
Also present were Phuket Provincial Police Commander Maj Gen Sermphan Sirikong and Rear Admiral Kanokpol Pimthong, Deputy Director of the Phuket branch of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), the Thai military’s internal security organisation.
Joining the ranks were Phuket City Mayor Saroj Angkhanapilas and Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation (PPAO) Vice President Anupap Wechvanichsanong, as the two organisations will be overseeing the funding for the project.
Phuket Commerce Chief Woranit Aphiratjirawong and Communicable Diseases Division Chief at the Phuket Provincial Public Health Office (PPHO) Dr Kusuma Sawangphan completed the line-up, along with Krisana Thipayachon, currently Director of Chanthaburi Prison but also now Acting Director of the Phuket Department of Corrections Office, and hence the current Chief Warden at Phuket Provincial Prison.
Mr Krisana explained that the move to transform the old prison into a tourism attraction came under the direction of Ayut Sinthapphan, Director-General of the Department of Corrections.
Built some 120 years ago, the prison remains one of the oldest remaining prisons still standing in the country, Mr Kisana said.
The prison covers just over 41 rai, with much of the site undeveloped as the buildings clustered close to Damrong Rd, he said.
“By designating the development of the Old Phuket Prison area in Phuket Town for public use to become a green area, it will become the lungs of Phuket Town,” Mr Krisana said.
“Currently, this Phuket Prison is not used for inmates control missions, but it is worth preserving for future generations to learn about the wisdom of the craftsmen in the past, both in architecture and the tools and materials used in construction,” he said.
“People generally can’t see or touch such real things from the past; some people call it ‘Twilight Zone’,” he said.
“Developing the ‘Twilight Zone’ to be an eco-tourism attraction and a ‘live museum’ learning centre will give tourists and local people a learning experience about correctional work in the past,” Mr Kirisana continued.
“The prison will also serve as a source of education for those interested in correctional work and will be used as a professional training venue for inmates who are undertaking vocational training before release,” he added.
The prisoners who will be allowed at the old prison are those who are undertaking pre-release vocational courses to learn how to provide traditional massages, how to operate a stall selling coffee and other drinks, and those learning embroidery, Mr Krisana said.
Phuket City Mayor Mr Saroj said that as the old prison, which has the official address of 11 Damrong Rd, is within the Phuket Municipality area, the municipality will be supporting the project.
“Along with supporting plans to improve the area to bring the prison back to life and allow people to continue to use them together,” he said.
PPAO Vice President Mr Anuparp said that the PPAO is ready to support the budget for the project to renovate the former prison as an eco-tourism destination “to provide a public space that people can use together in a sustainable way”.
However, Mayor Saroj and Mr Anupap did not reveal any estimates of how much money will be spent on the project.
For nigh two decades the old Phuket Prison was notoriously overcrowded, spurring the move to spend B789 million on building the new Phuket Provincial Prison in Srisoonthorn, Thalang. The new prison opened in December 2020.
The old prison, however, most recently served as a ‘Covid Care Center’, where COVID-19 patients not sick enough to be admitted to hospital where required to stay “for the health and safety of their neighbours in the community” during the height of the Delta outbreak last year.