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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
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Thailand's Bangkwang jail - know in the West as the Bangkok Hilton - is one of the most notorious prisons in the world.

Until now, the reality of life in Bangkwang has remained a secret. But for the first time ever, the jail has opened its gates to television cameras.

After two years of negotiations, Thai officials have allowed a crew from the BBC's This World series to film inside the prison.

The Real Bangkok Hilton
Thursday, 22 July, 2004
2100 BST on BBC Two (UK)

Most of the 7,000 inmates are serving time for drug offences.

Among those interviewed for the film are two of the nine British prisoners, one man on death row, the head executioner and the monk who administers the last rites.

With massive overcrowding and little funding, prisoners dying of Aids are left shackled to their beds. A doctor explains how Thai society is reluctant to donate medicine as it thinks the prisoners deserve their suffering.

"Thai prisons are tough," says Director of Prisons Khun Nattee as a warning to tourists... "you don't want to be in Bangkwang."

Does the UK Government's attitude towards prisoner exchange programmes need reform? How should Thailand deal with the growing problems of drug addiction? Is the death penalty a more effective deterrent than other punishments?

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The comments published on this page reflect the balance of views we have received.

I think this programme should be shown to all young people who are about to travel
Michael Pala, Luton

Well done BBC Two. If the British people want reality TV they've got it.
Ron Taylor, Manchester

People should respect the laws of other countries and they are aware of the penalties if they break them. If you don't do anything wrong then you have nothing to worry about. Aren't we better off with these people behind bars?
Catherine, West Midlands

I feel very sorry for Michael Connell, being imprisoned in Bangkwang at the age of 19. If only he had had the chance to see this programme before he flew out to Thailand, he may not have taken the risk. I think this programme should be shown to all young people who are about to travel, and it should be shown on flights to Thailand. Hopefully, the scenes of inside the prison will make people think twice. The pictures of this prison speak a thousand words.
Michael Pala, Luton

An excellent unbiased programme. I cannot feel any sympathy with the guilty, and I feel that Britain should be responsible for their own prisoners. Bring them home and make them serve their full sentence here.
Melvyn Wood, Plymouth

Great programme BBC. Upsetting to see British prisoners treated so appallingly. They have committed their crimes but in both cases the situation facing the two men was one of uncertainty and turmoil. I know this is no excuse for the crimes they have committed, but surely they do not deserve to suffer the horrendous conditions of Bangkwang. It's not a prison, it's a death camp.
Luke, Northampton

A deeply moving programme
Philippa Swift, UK

What a fantastic programme. It should be shown in all high schools across the country to show exactly what happens if go down that path and think you won't get caught.
Irene, England

I thought it was a great programme. It was saddening to watch and it made us appreciate our life in the West more. Many people have a black and white view on the issue but the programme looks into the causes behind the crime, which few ever do. It reveals to us that in most cases, it is people who had little other choice as a result of the capitalist system. It shows that these things rarely are as black and white as we'd like to think, and are dependent on cultural, religious, social and economic issues.
Chris, UK

I never felt so horrified before from watching a programme. The way those men are treated, how can anyone justify that? That poor boy getting 99 years for one extreme case of bad judgement.
Mimi, England

That is the type of prison we should have in the British Isles instead of the cushy places we have at present
Joanna, Antrim

Very good programme, well done. What can we do to make the government bring these British prisoners back to the UK sooner, and then lessen the sentence that they have to serve once they have home?
Nick and Karin, Netherlands

Well done to BBC. Superb programme. It highlighted how some sentencing systems perceived as cruel have actually done a lot of good for people. How true was the comment made by the Buddhist monk: "A murderer may be as simple as killing one person, but a drug dealer destroys the future of many youths, so they deserve it.".
Rizal, UK

That is the type of prison we should have in the British Isles instead of the cushy places we have at present. Can anyone really deny that since this softly softly policy was put in force the crime rate has soared?
Joanna, Antrim

A deeply moving programme. I think the sentencing is wrong when you consider some of the awful things that happen in the UK and the things that people practically get away with like murder, rape and paedophilia. It isn't worth thinking about. I know they have done the wrong thing and I believe they should pay for the crimes committed, but the basic rules of humanity must count for something don't they?
Philippa Swift, UK

What an amazing insight into life in the Thai prison
Aiden McMahon, UK
Whatever you think about how a prison should be, there will always be people wrongly convicted of crimes. I find it hard to see how any sane human being can advocate the death penalty or condone conditions as bad as that, when some of them are innocent. On another note, is it really fair to make someone pay the price of their life so that other people can live without crime? That doesn't seem fair to me. How would you like to be used as deterrent?
George, UK

A profoundly shocking programme. I know that many of these people are evil and wrong, but it was evident that many were stupid, lacked intelligence or had special needs. To put a living thing into a cell too short to lie in for the rest of their life is almost as evil as the crime they tried to perpetrate. This prison and the associated sentences simply make the country look backward.
Peter Pickle, UK

What an amazing insight into life in the Thai prison. This programme should be shown to 14+ year olds in Europe so that other impoverished fools are not falling for the same trap. Great TV, how sad for everyone concerned.
Aiden McMahon, UK

On viewing the programme I can only conclude that everyone must respect the laws of the country that they are visiting. I feel no sympathy for people in the prison. They have been found guilty despite their complaints and must face the consequences.
Andy Milne, Hants

Excellent programme, if prisons in the UK were like this then we would not have the problems modern society has now. Do not forget the harm drugs do to families and the community.
C Bellamy, Berks

I was utterly disgusted at the harsh punishment these prisoners receive
Rachel, UK

The sentences may seem harsh but they are drug smugglers and deserve all they get.
Andrew McGowan, UK

A refreshing, and as I see it, unemotional documentary, with an empathetic view from both the Thai prison staff and prisoners perspective. Very interesting and thought provoking. Thank you.
Juliet Wickstead, UK

I found the fact that the programme makers were trying to make the viewer feel pity for the prisoners, annoying. These people committed crimes and so they should serve their time. Prisoner exchange treaties simply offer a get-out clause, why should they not do the same time as a Thai person?
Sam, UK

Having read Warren Fellows account of life in Bangkwang - The Damage Done - in the 1970s, it is still not clear to me what life is really like on the inside. His book described an institution that treated its inmates much more severely that this programme suggests. Perhaps the prison has changed since then, or maybe the BBC and Fellows have only presented part of the picture?
Jim, UK

What can I say? The programme has to be the biggest anti-drug smuggling message ever. People know the consequences of drug smuggling, especially in Thailand. If this programme stops just one person from carrying drugs into Thailand it has done its job.
Rich Estlick, UK

This programme should help eliminate drug pushers.
Yogesh Jeram, UK

The mules serve long sentences while the drug lords continue to do business. Where is the justice?
John, Ireland

I was utterly disgusted at the harsh and wrong punishment these prisoners get. Surely murderers should have got longer or the death penalty, not the drug smugglers and dealers? And the first way they used to kill the prisoners on death row made me feel sick! How could they do that to another human being, the people that did that should be ashamed of themselves!
Rachel, UK

As a human being I find the treatment of these people repugnant
Paul Oyler, UK

Superb programme. Thai people are deeply religious, moral and fair. Bangkwang is model example of how a prison should be operated and an overwhelming example of why crime doesn't pay.
Phil Wharfe, UK

I've lived in Thailand for a few years now. The sentences seem harsh, and probably are, but people here know the consequences. Crime rates are low and it's safe to walk the streets at night. Can you say the same for the UK?
David Barnett, Thailand

It is the height of arrogance for Europe to expect everyone in the world to adopt the same attitudes and standards for prisons and punishment of criminals. It was not that long ago in historical terms that Europe's prisons were as bad or worse than anything the BBC will show in its documentary, no matter how offensive to our 21st Century Western sensibilities.
Mark, USA

The Real Bangkok Hilton
19 Jul 04 |  This World
The execution of Thai justice
22 Jul 04 |  This World


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