Thai prisons testing video visits over cellphones

BANGKOK — Thailand's prisons have begun testing a video conferencing system that allows long-distance visits with inmates via a social media messaging application, an official said Tuesday.

Supanna Wangapai, head of communications for the Corrections Department, said five prisons across the country began using the system on Monday, beginning a testing phase of about one month.

If the new video calling system runs smoothly, it could be introduced to as many as 20 prisons within a few months, Supanna said.

At least for now, those seeking to use the system to talk to an inmate must go to the Corrections Department headquarters just north of Bangkok to register, in a strict process that takes up to a week, and use the department's provided cellphone to call another phone belonging to the prison where the inmate is held. The calls are made using the LINE chat messaging application.

Supanna said the system would allow inmates to be contacted by friends or relatives who live far away from the prisons, but added that the arrangement currently is most suitable for people who live in Bangkok because they must physically travel to the Corrections Department to make calls. She said rules could be changed in the future to allow visitors to call inmates from home.

"The long-distance visiting system is mostly for people in Bangkok or its vicinity," Supanna said. "For example, if an inmate is in Chiang Mai but their parents or wife or whoever may be in Bangkok, then they can carry out their visit at the department headquarters." The five prisons that have begun to allow video visits include ones in Thailand's northern, southern and northeastern regions.

Supanna said each prisoner is allowed only one video call per month, but that quota could be changed in the future. Thai prisons first attempted to introduce long-distance video visits about 10 years ago using older technology, but the plans were canceled due to various technical problems, she said.

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