Female inmates hope new prison facilities will provide bigger, cleaner and safer rooms than the current building that houses men and women together
Eleanor Ainge Roy
Female prisoners walk through the grounds of Battambang provincial prison.
CONSTRUCTION for a prison building designed exclusively for women will begin in February in Battambang province, improving conditions for the growing number of female inmates, a prison officer told the Post Tuesday.
"At present, female prisoners stay in the same building as men, but the building is divided in two - half for men and half for women. They cannot see or talk with the men," said Hi Chamreun, the deputy of Battambang prison.
"We will construct a women's building separate from the men's building, as well as a children's building, health clinic and a building for prisoners to meet their relatives."
According to rights group Licadho, in the 18 prisons they regularly monitor, as of February 2008, there were 562 incarcerated women - a nearly 60 percent increase from three years ago.
Soun Savann, 32, has been in the prison for nine years of her 18-year sentence, and says that right now separation between the sexes is lax.
"Even though the building is divided in two, some of the male prisoners sneak out to look at us when we are in the bathroom," she said.
Soun Savann said she hopes that a more female-centred facility will not only provide more privacy but also allow her to better learn career skills traditionally associated with women.
"While I am in prison, I want to learn things that will support me when I am released. Right now, I am learning to sew, but I want to study makeup and beauty salon techniques, too."
Seun Sy, 45, has also been incarcerated for nine years and even delivered her baby while in prison.
In a 2007 report detailing the plight of incarcerated women with children, Licadho said that no additional shelter is given to women with children, and that kids are "expected to share their mother's ... food".
"Pregnant women are denied essential pre- and post-natal care, and are in some cases forced to deliver their child within the prison," the report said.
Seun Sy said she hopes these new prison buildings will make it easier for women to stay healthy and maintain their relationships with family members, but said she is particularly excited about the prospect of finally getting a little peace and quiet.
"I am happy that we will have a new building separate from men because I can have a quiet place to pray when there is a full moon," Seun Sy said.
"Our cells are very narrow," she added. "One cell is only four metres by four metres, and 12 prisoners live there. When we live in cramped quarters with so many people, it is easy to become infected with disease."
Ran Vannjhon, a Licadho prison researcher in Battambang, said "the new building will be good for female prisoners because it will not be so narrow".
"When they have their own building, it will be easier for them to clean it and ensure good sanitation," he said.
Licadho said housing men and women separately is required by the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which states:
"In the case of an institution that receives both men and women, the whole of the premises allocated to women shall be entirely separate."