We are studying and preparing advice and principles to help the court ... send prisoners to work in the community
The government plans to encourage community service for minor offences, in a bid to promote alternatives to imprisonment and alleviate pressure on the Kingdom’s overburdened prison system.
Ith Rady, under secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said on Monday that the move was part of a project set up with the Cambodia Criminal Justice Assistance Project – funded by AusAID – to create new “principles” with which to advise courts on sentencing offenders to community service.
“We have never done [sentencing] before that allows measures such as allowing prisoners to work in the community,” he said, adding that national and provincial commissions would be created to monitor those serving non-custodial sentences. “We are studying and preparing advice and principles to help the court to make decisions about sending prisoners to work in the community.”
A report released last year by rights group Licadho stated that the penal code listed a range of sentencing options – including full non-custodial sentences and mechanisms to minimise or reduce prison time, which includes community service and suspended sentencing.
Ith Rady said that the ministries were enforcing penal code provisions by outlining alternatives to incarceration.
“We need the community to join, if the community does not join us we cannot enforce [community service], but if we can enforce it we can resolve some of the overcrowding issues [in prisons],” he said.
According to a separate Licadho report released earlier this week, Cambodia’s prisons are “bursting at the seams” with at least 12 facilities out of 18 monitored by the organisation at or near double their intended capacity.
The report also stated that non-custodial sentencing was unheard of, bail underutilised, and a parole system authorised in the Code of Criminal Procedure had not been implemented. “The critical point is to make sure it’s implemented properly,” Jeff Vize, Licadho prison consultant, said yesterday.
“Sometimes if non-custodial sentencing is not done right you have potential cases where something goes wrong. That can set the whole process back.”
“You do need a probation department or some sort of attachment to the judiciary that’s actually staffed properly to look after these people.”
Vize added that increased use of bail for pre-trial detainees and the introduction of a proper parole system would give authorities more flexibility in reducing the prison population.
Interior Ministry officials declined to comment yesterday. Representatives from AusAID and CCJAP were not available for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID