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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Debts to society extend to prisoners' families in Pursat

Debts to society extend to prisoners' families in Pursat

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A prison guard in a guard tower at Pursat province's prison. The families of inmates have complained that the prison is charging too much money to allow them to visit their relatives and are demanding it stop. RICK VALENZUELA

For Set Borind, to visit her husband is a question of whether she wants to go hungry. The 23-year-old, whose spouse has been imprisoned in Pursat’s provincial lockup for fraud, says she must sell what small amount of rice she has stockpiled in order to raise the US$25 demanded by prison guards for a few hours’ visit.

“I sell rice to pay for the visits to my husband in prison,” she told the Post last week, standing in front the prison gates.

“On my first visit, they charged me US$25 (100,000 riels). If I do not pay, they do not allow me to see my husband.”

Twenty-five dollars appears to be the going rate for family visits these days at Pursat prison, with prison guards claiming that their jobs would be in jeopardy if they did not collect.

“On my first visit, I was charged $25,” said Thy Day, the daughter of an inmate who said she has grown accustomed to these demands.

“I explained to the guard that I had travelled far to visit my father and I did not have the money. He didn’t listen and said he would get into trouble if he did not charge me,” Thy Day said.

On her second visit, Thy Day was charged 80,000 riels, but she said the visitation fees have now dropped to 20,000 riels.

But if she brings food to her father, she is charged an extra 5,000 riels.

“The guards have told me that this money is being used to develop a project for the prisoners. But they are not clear about what sort of project it is. I don’t know if this is a rule of the prison or not, but I must pay if I want to see my father,” she said.

Policy of corruption

A guard at the prison who refused to give his name told the Post he charges between $25 and $60, depending on the wealth of the visitor.

“This is the rule of the Pursat prison director, and all of the money goes to him. He doesn’t do anything with the money. He just keeps it for himself,” the guard said. He added that the prison has been run this way for a long time and, though he doesn’t want to demand money from poor people, he has no choice if he wishes to keep his job.

Prison Director Ngoun Lay, however, said his facility is run no differently than any other in Cambodia.

“The money we request I do not keep for myself. I use it to buy medicine to treat sick prisoners and also to support prisoners who have no

relatives.”

But Phung Sothea, a local director for the rights group Adhoc, said demanding money from prison visitors is illegal and creates difficulties for poor people who fall into debt to pay for visits.

“This type of government corruption is common across all of Cambodia’s prisons,” he said.

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