Corrections under fire
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Corrections under fire

Once again, the Corrections Department has become the subject of public suspicion over the issue of impartiality. This time around, it concerns Vonnarat Tangkaravakoon, a key culprit in the biggest stock market fraud and the majority shareholder of cable and wire manufacturer Stark Corporation.

A group of Thai investors who were cheated on their Stark Corporation investments last week lodged a petition with Justice Minister Tawee Sodsong demanding the truth about Vonnarat's medical treatment at the Police General Hospital (PGH).

After losing their money, the investors felt as if they were "robbed" for a second time when Vonnarat was granted the privilege of staying comfortably on the 14th floor of the PGH instead of being incarcerated at Bangkok Remand Prison.

The investors' petition prompted the acting director of the Corrections Hospital to shed light on the situation when he confirmed that Vonnarat was initially treated for swollen testicles at the Corrections Hospital on Feb 13 but was eventually sent to the Police General Hospital on April 23 after it was discovered he had a malignant lump on his left testicle.

It's no surprise that Vonnarat's tale of a life-threatening illness has been similarly compared to the suspected fairy tales told by the Corrections Hospital and the PGH over the reported illnesses of other paroled inmates, including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin's unusually quick recovery from his reported illnesses following his PGH discharge, which saw him fit and strong enough to travel around unaided, speaks volumes that claims of life-threatening ailments made by the two hospitals are anything but true.

Thai prisons under the supervision of the Corrections Department are something akin to the "twilight zone" and are beyond the reach of the law and public scrutiny.

Once a person is convicted and sentenced to serve time in prison, his or her destiny rests with corrections officials.

There have been countless reports of prisoners staying comfortably with all the conveniences of a free man if they have the financial means.

Some have been quietly sent home to live within the confines of their home in order not to provoke suspicion.

It is fair to say that Thai prisons are only meant for the poor.

Because of the severity of the Stark fraud case and the extensive damage done to thousands of people, the main culprit of the fraud, dubbed "the biggest robbery" in the history of the Thai stock market, should be treated like other inmates.

The ideal purpose of imprisonment is to restrict the freedom of individuals who break the law of society, and it is the cost that they have to pay so they will not repeat the same mistake. It is not an act of revenge.

As such, privileged inmates such as Vonnarat must be sent back to prison if their illnesses are proven to be fabricated. If he is really sick, he should be sent back when he recovers.

More importantly, similar treatment must be equally applied to all inmates.

The case of Thaksin, Vonnarat and other unreported cases should warrant the creation of a mechanism to counter-check the Corrections Department; otherwise, the verdicts of the court to imprison wrongdoers, particularly the rich, are pointless exercises that only reveal how corrupt the justice system has become.

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