Relatives waited expectantly out side the prison gate to welcome their loved ones beyond the prison walls.
In total, 216 inmates, 177 men and 39 women, were granted their freedom this morning, Phuket Provincial Prison Commissioner Soontorn Dechraksa explained to The Phuket News.
All 216 were serving sentences for “small cases”, he said.
“They were all also serving their first jail sentences. None of the prisoners released were serving sentences for drugs or serious cases,” he added.
Only one foreigner, a Turkish citizen, was among the 216 inmates freed, Mr Soontorn confirmed.
“He had been in prison for many months. He was jailed under the Immigration Act because he lived in Thailand long past his permitted time,” he added, declining to name the Turkish inmate.
However, although now no longer behind bars, the Turkish man today will be handed over to officers at Phuket City Police Station, Mr Soontorn said.
“Then police will coordinate with Phuket Immigration to proceed with the steps to have him deported,” he explained.
Mr Soontorn noted that of the 2331 inmates still incarcerated at Phuket Prison are 227 foreigners, specifically 214 men and 13 women.
“Most of them have been imprisoned under Immigration Act, or for burglary or narcotics,” he said.
Of those, 181 (174 men and seven women) are Myanmar nationals. However, Mr Soontorn confirmed that five Russians and four Brits also spend days behind bars in Phuket.
More prisoners will be released in the coming 120 days, in accordance with the royal decree issued in the Royal Gazette on May 3, Mr Soontorn added.
The decree outlined the criteria and conditions for those eligible for a royal pardon or reduced sentence. According to the decree, the royal pardons were being granted on the occasion of His Majesty the King’s coronation to help inmates reintegrate with society as good citizens.
Offenders who have been performing public services, those who are already out on probation and inmates with a year or less remaining on their sentence will be released, reported the Bangkok Post earlier this month.
Also included are people with serious disabilities and illnesses, such as terminal cancer and HIV/Aids. (See story here.)
However, Mr Soontorn this morning said that at this stage he could not confirm how many more prisoners in Phuket will be released.
Phuket Vice Governor Supoj Rotreuang Na Nongkhai, who presided over the release ceremony this morning, said, “I congratulate everyone [on their release] and I ask everyone to keep in mind that this grace from our King gives everyone the chance to start a new life.
“I wish everyone here continues with good behaviour, and applies the knowledge gained from training during your jail terms, to change your lives and [previous] occupations in order to provide for yourself and your family,” Mr Supoj said.
Mr Soontorn also commented on the current state of overcrowding at Phuket Prison, and confirmed that only last week he had 500 inmates transferred to other prisons in the South to alleviate the crowded conditions.
“We had more than 3,000 prisoners, but last week I moved about 500 prisoners to other prisons to reduce congestion in the prison,” he said.
Inmates were transferred from Phuket to other detention facilities, such as Phang Nga Provincial Prison and Takua Pa District Prison both in Phang Nga province, as well as Ranong Provincial Prison, Chaiya District Prison in Surat Thani province and Pak Phanang District Prison in Nakhon Sri Thammarat.
Regarding new Phuket Provincial Prison under construction in Baan Bangjo, Srisoonthorn, Thalang, Mr Soontorn said, “I expect the construction will be completed by the end of this year. Construction has now progressed to 70% complete.
“Once the new prison is completed, it can hold 4,000-5,000 prisoners,” he said.
“Unlike the existing prison, when finished the new prison is complete and open it will be able receive prisoners who have to serve sentences of up to 30 years. At present, the existing prison only holds prisoners sentenced to a maximum of 15 years,” Mr Soontorn explained to The Phuket News in october last year.
“In addition, there will be different zones holding different categories of prisoners. But details about these zones will be planned later,” he added. (See story here.)