There are about 145 prisons and correctional institutions throughout the Kingdom of Thailand:
34 Central Prisons
4 Remand Prisons
24 Correctional Institutions
5 Houses of Relegation
1 Detention House
49 Provincial Prisons
27 District Prisons
144 in total
The most notorious prison is called “Bankgwang Central prison” and is in Bangkok. Originally built to house 3,000 men, it is now home to 7,000 men. It caters to inmates serving 30 years to life as well as Death Row inmates.
One of the other large prisons in Bangkok is called “Lard Yao mens prison”, also known as “Klong Prem” prison and it holds inmates who are serving sentences of 30 years or less.
We have contact with inmates in all of the following prisons and pay an annual visit to five prisons. Most inmates get moved to other prisons during their sentence. Pen friends are encouraged to follow their pen pal wherever they are moved to in order to stay connected with them. Initially this ministry was involved with prison in and around Bangkok only but that has changed. There are many organisations reaching out to prisoners in and around Bangkok. The area we focus on is in North-East Thailand called Isaan and is very rural and impoverished. These are some of the prisons which have been impacted over the years.
Ayuttaya Central Prison
Bangkwang Central prison
Buriram provincial prison
Klong Prem Men’s Prison
Klong Prem Women’s Prison
Khao Bin Prison
Klong Pai Prison
Khon Kaen prison
Chiang Mai Prison
Chiang Rai Prison
Mae Hong Son Prison
Lampang Central prison
Nong Bua Lamphu
Nakhonphanom central prison
Udonthani women’s prison
Udonthani men’s central prison
Pitsanulok Central prison
Amphoe Thoeng prison
Women’s correctional institution Bangkok
Youth Central Prison
Yasothorn Provincial prison
Each individual has their own story and circumstances. In time, most are willing to share their experience with you.
During the last decade, the prison population in Thailand has increased dramatically and the number of drug offences notified to the police has become the number one crime in Thailand.
Of the over 374,000 prisoners in Thailand (in 2020) there are over 30,000 women currently serving prison sentences. According to Thailand’s Ministry of Justice, male prisoners represent 86% of the total prison population.
Again according to the Department of Corrections, 56.42% of the prison population is serving sentences for crimes related to drugs.
Prison life varies from prison to prison due to the rules & facilities of each prison, however the following themes are common amongst all prisons:
a) Over crowding
Most of the prisons have 145% occupancy levels. Inmates sleep side by side in dormitory style rooms, 6m x 4m large, containing 20-30 men, on a concrete floor with glaring lights shining all night long. Each cell has one open Asian style toilet and there is no privacy at all.
b) Food & kitchens
Prison food contains minimal nutrition and inmates rely heavily upon being able to supplement the prison food. Some prisons provide highly desired kitchen areas so, provided they have funds to purchase food, inmates can cook for themselves. Prison water is questionable by western standards.
Foreign inmates are not allowed to do formal work and are not given a salary or allowance. Some may work for other inmates washing clothes, cooking food, running errands etc as a means of making some money. The prison relies heavily on a bartering system and it is impossible for inmates to survive without some external financial aid.
d) Cell time
In most prisons, the majority of their time is spent in the over crowded cells. Some time is allowed each day for physical activities but on average the prisoners are inside for 14hours per day.
More often than not, their crimes cause them to be forsaken by far away family and friends. The loneliness is sometimes harder to bear than the cruelty in the prisons.
You can write about anything, your hobbies, pets, travels, sport etc. You become the window on the “world” for them. Our primary aim is to encourage and let them know that you care.
If you don’t receive a reply right away, be patient. Mail moves more slowly behind prison walls. These prisoners are anxiously awaiting contact from the outside world. If you don’t get an immediate reply, be assured that it is not because they are not trying to communicate with you. Be sure both your return and to address are legible. Always print your name and address neatly on the envelope and include it again in the body of the letter in case something happens to the envelope. Put the prisoner’s name on each sheet of paper or the back of any photos that you enclose – this ensures that pages won’t get lost when the mail is opened.
Birthdays can be a lonely time. If you don’t have time for a lengthy correspondence, remembering a prisoner on this particular day can have a tremendous impact. Greeting cards can be a good way to make initial contact. There are so many friendship-type cards available just to say “hello” to the prisoner. This can take the pressure off of you worrying about what to write that first time. You might want to include a photograph of yourself so the prisoner has a “face” to put with the name.
Always write your letters with the understanding that prison authorities will read them. Please avoid political jargon or comment on the country’s constitution or judicial procedures. Given the desperation of the inmates, please don’t be offended if they request financial help. Your primary role is to encourage them through your letters.
Over the years, prison authorities have changed their regulations regarding snail mail. Many are not allowed to receive any mail now. They sure need our prayers.
It is quite safe to use your home address, otherwise a PO Box number will be fine too. Whenever you get a “first” letter please make it clear to the prisoners that from now on you are going to be their friend and contact person. As with all relationships, use your descretion at first and get to know each other.
Please note that the rules vary from prison to prison and keep changing. The best policy is to write to your friend and inquire from them directly what the current status with regards to parcels in that prison is.
Currently, in most prisons , no parcels are allowed and the rules are strictly enforced.
Life in a Thai prison is unbearable without some financial support which allows inmates to buy some food, toiletries and stationery to remain in contact with the outside world. A stronger currency enables us to stretch your money much farther than the Thai Baht could allow for. Every cent matters.
Under NO circumstances should cash be sent by mail. The reality is that it is very difficult to get money to prisoners from abroad. We are constantly revisiting our policies and looking for more effective ways to deliver finances. The Thai penal system has rules in place which needs to be adhered too. The best way to give to your pen friend is to give to the “churches behind bars” since that means they will receive money as part of the group who receives when we the Thai team visits them.
The most straightforward way of communicating with your pen friend is via regular post. Some inmates may have an email account but we recommend keeping your letters paper based. There are often delays when writing to prisoners because each letter must be censored before it is delivered to the prisoner. So please be patient. Some prisoners have very limited resources and can’t afford the stamps and/or writing material. International aerogrammes are quite affordable and an easy way to communicate with your friend.
Since 2019 we are encouraging the local Christian churches in Thailand to write. This provides for better communication and the letters are allowed inside without delay. If you are still writing and hearing from your friend in prison, please keep going.
At this stage we are not seeking new writers within Australia.
We welcome anybody who would like to reach out with compassion to those in need. All you need is a genuine, loving, empathetic heart and a desire to make a difference.