On 3 to 6 March 2014, the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) and the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation (IPPF) co-hosted a colloquium on “Women in Prison” at the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok. The colloquium was attended by researchers and practitioners from many European countries (mostly IPPF participants), but also by regional experts from the Philippines and Japan, as well as important representatives from the Thai government. Speakers included key Thai figures including Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice Dr Kittipong Kittayarak, TIJ Executive Director Ambassador Adisak Panupong and TIJ Deputy Director Nathee Chitsawang.

At the centre of the discussions were the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules), the first international standards designed to address specifically the needs of women and girls in the criminal justice system. The Rules were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010.

The background to the Rules and why they are necessary were explained by TIJ Executive Director Adisak Panupong at his introductory remark. He indicated how women’s needs are very specific, including personal hygiene, sexual and reproductive health needs, and psychological and mental care. In many cases, women prisoners are also mothers with child rearing responsibilities, pregnant women, and breast-feeding mothers. Yet they are vulnerable to re-victimization and abuse in prison settings. However despite a clear need for gender-specific treatment for incarcerated women, many domestic policymakers and criminal justice practitioners are unaware of the Bangkok Rules. It is for this reason that it is important to continue the discussion and to expand the discussion around the world: at this colloquium, with Europeans.

Dr Kittipong Kittayarak (Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice) noted that the Colloquium represented a strong will to protect women in prison, 4 years after the adoption of the Bangkok Rules at the General Assembly in 2010. He then explained the background to the Bangkok Rules and Thailand’s involvement in their drafting and ultimate adoption at United Nations. He also drew the participant’s attention to good practices in Thai prison administration and the activities of the Ministry of Justice to implement the Rules.

On this occasion, the TIJ organized a side-visit program at the Central Women Correctional Institution, Bangkok. The program was led by Mr. Nathee Chitsawang, deputy director of TIJ, who also overviewed the treatment of women prisoners in Thailand to the colloquium participants. Moreover, the TIJ took this chance to arrange the show of live chorus music singing by women prisoners.