Old prison getting demolished, will the promised park come?

The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has raised the question of why there has been no development in the plan to turn the old prison into a park, leading to instant action last week.

The old prison, which you can read about when Citylife first visited it in 2006 when it was a women-only prison, was slated to be turned into a park in 2012 with a budget of 158 million baht put aside by the central government for its development. The prison emptied out and allowed for the public to enter in 2013, and you can see some of the photos we took of the prison’s interior when we visited then, a fascinating and rare look at the remains of life behind bars in Thailand. That year saw then-governor of Chiang Mai Thanin Supasen officiate over a nine day nine night merit making event before the project was turned over to the National Office of Buddhism to complete the development on the 15 rai of land.

There have been many meetings with various governors by community groups who are concerned at the lack of progress, and finally in 2015 a competition was held to find the winning design. The winning design was awarded to Natural Thai Location Co., Ltd., a construction and design firm which won the bid with a design requiring a budget of 95 million baht. By the time governor Suphachai Iamsuwan arrived in early 2018, the project had once again stalled as the demolishing of old buildings was awaiting the approval of the Fine Arts Department due to the fact that it is believed to sit on historical land which authorities suspect may even have been founder of Chiang Mai King Mengrai’s palace over 700 years ago. Excavation was carried out for a lengthy amount of time with many shards, coins and other items being found.

It is only now that there is movement again and last week saw most of the old buildings being completely demolished.

Thoedsak Yenjura, director of the Archeological Conservation Group at Chiang Mai’s 7th Fine Arts Office told CityNews, “The reason that the works on the old women’s prison is being done now is because the budget for the project has just arrived. The old buildings will be demolished, as will the walls of the old prison. Following a survey we have also discovered remains of an old city wall, so at this point the direction of development may have to start fresh, as we reach out to the community to ask people what they would like to see. Now, we are just demolishing.”

He did clarify, however, that not all buildings will be demolished, there are some structures such as the prison tower and some of the old buildings which he says has architectural and historical as well as sentimental value.

“Whether it is appropriate or not, this prison is an integral part of our history, our story which must be remembered,” he added.

Read about the new women’s prison when Citylife visited it with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador on the Rule of Law for Southeast Asia, Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol in 2018.