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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Guards thwart Pursat jailbreak

Guards thwart Pursat jailbreak

A GROUP of 10 inmates has attempted to escape from a new prison in Pursat province that operates a vocational training programme aimed at teaching inmates agricultural skills, its director said Thursday.

Hin Sophal said the incident marked the second escape attempt at Correctional Centre 4 since it opened last year as part of a broader initiative to combat prison overcrowding. In March, the facility – designed to house 2,500 prisoners on 846 hectares of land – began growing sugarcane, rubber trees and potatoes as part of the vocational programme, which has been hailed as a potential model for reducing recidivism.

On Sunday, Hin Sophal said, the 10 prisoners – all of whom are between 19 and 23 and serving sentences for robbery or theft – began “to fight each other without reason” in their shared cell. Prison guards eventually broke up the fight and locked the prisoners in a room together.

He said the prisoners, once locked in, started to kick at the door and walls, and that they also threw objects at the roof in an attempt to make a hole through which they could escape.

“The officials came to stop them, but they did not listen,” he said, and added that the prisoners had attempted to take one of the officials hostage while ordering others to furnish a getaway van.

The prisoners eventually backed down, however, when “one official shot his gun three times to the sky”, Hin Sophal said.

He added that he believed the initial fight had been staged as part of an elaborate escape plot, though he noted that one prisoner sustained two broken teeth in the scuffle.

“I think their trick was pretending to fight each other in order to make unrest in the centre,” he said.

Escape risk at CC4 high
A separate escape attempt in early June was also unsuccessful, Hin Sophal said.

Jeff Vize, prison project consultant for the rights group Licadho, said Thursday that the fact that CC4 prisoners engage in agricultural work in open areas “potentially creates escape opportunities”, but added that he did not know the details of the most recent escape attempt.

“I don’t know if they were working at the time of the attempt,” he said.

Vize said he could not provide figures for the number of prison breaks nationwide, but that that such attempts are reported periodically.

Hin Sophal said CC4 is more porous than other prisons because it is a new structure and does not yet have a “good fence” around it.

He added, though, that guards there are extremely cautious because the risk of escape is higher.

“If we are careless to take control over them, they will escape very easily, but all the prison officials are never careless, even for a minute, because they are prisoners, not the ordinary people,” he said.

Another factor that lessens the threat of escapes, Hin Sophal said, is that all of the prisoners in CC4 are either serving 12-to-18-month sentences, or have been transferred to the facility from other prisons as they neared the end of their sentences.

“My prison is easier for prisoners who want to escape,” he said. “But I always educate those prisoners not to try to escape because their sentence is nearly finished.”

Heng Hak, director general of the Department of Prisons at the Interior Ministry, said he was still investigating the case, and that it is possible the 10 prisoners’ sentences will be extended.

“Those prisoners, if the court finds out they have made a new violation of the law, they will have to be charged again,” he said.

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