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Justice Minister of Thailand, Somsak Thepsuthin, has suggested a new initiative to increase the educational level of their sizable prison population: Utilizing foreign inmates as English teachers for their fellow Thai prisoners.

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The proposal comes amid a media field that has been dominated by discussions of unfair treatment of foreigners in Thailand, including double-pricing, and courts favoring Thai nationals over foreigners in legal disputes.

Thailand ranks sixth highest in the world in prison population, with roughly 350,000 prisoners. This includes 14,275 foreign inmates from 103 different countries, but not all of them are fluent in English. Those with sufficient English skills are expected to amount only to around 2,000.

In some prisons, like Rayong Central Prison, about 90 percent of the inmates are jailed for drug-related offenses. Some are illiterate and some only received primary education level, which creates a challenge for rehabilitation programs.

Thai prisons are known from their strict rules and harsh conditions, such as Bang Kwang in Nonthaburi, better known as the Bangkok Hilton.

The Justice Minister floated the idea on Monday when he and Labour Minister M.R. Chatu Mongol Sonakul signed a settlement to increase cooperation between the Justice and Labour ministries to handle the problem of ex-convict unemployment.

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In an article by Bangkok Post, M.R. Chatu Mongol stated that under the agreement, the Employment and Skill Development departments of the Labour Ministry will provide training programs in various occupations for inmates before they are released and issue them a certificate to persuade business operators to hire them.

The Labour Ministry will seek participating employers, both inside and outside the nation, to accept educated inmates who suit their requirements, he stated.

M.R. Chatu Mongol also mentioned how the two ministries are already cooperating to offer training for inmates. Last year over 8000 inmates received occupational training with 70-80% of them discovering jobs after being released.

In 2020, the two ministries aim to train 1,840 inmates for jobs that are in high demand, such as construction workers, carpenters and electricians.

Mr Somsak suggested, that the Corrections Department is responsible for selecting suitable inmates for the program. Between 20,000-30,000 inmates have been targeted.

Those seeking jobs abroad have to study English or other languages used in nations where jobs are available, he said. Foreigners account for 4.6 percent of the prison population, from which the Corrections Division has been assigned to select the most potential candidates.

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The initiative could be a serious step forward for prisoners and youths in correction programs, allowing them to reintegrate back to society with better job opportunities.

The program didn’t mention any possible benefits for the participating foreign inmates, such as reduced sentences, or whether they can decline from their assignment.

Source: Bangkok Post

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