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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - No meat but a little music for New Year's in the slammer

No meat but a little music for New Year's in the slammer

With little funding, New Year's at Prey Sar prison this year will be a spartan celebration without beef or pork, but there will be dancing.

INMATE INCREASE

Cambodia's prison population increased by 7 percent in 2008.  Heng Hak said he has requested additional funds to deal with the population growth by asking for an increase in funding per prisoner from 1,500 riels a day to 2,800 riels, but has yet to receive more money.

EVERY year the Correctional Centre Two (CC2), the women's  dorm at Prey Sar prison, holds a New Year's celebration for its inmates. But this year, due to a lack of funds, the party will be even more of a no-frills affair.

"This year there is no budget, so we will not celebrate a big party as in previous years. We will just invite three monks to bless prisoners ... and allow them to collect alms," said Chat Sineang, Prey Sar's prison chief.

"Last year, we bought two cows and one pig to make food for them during the three days, but this year we won't have [any beef or pork to eat]," he said.

But despite lacking the usual banquet, Chat Sineang said he would provide opportunities for the prisoners to celebrate.

When I listen to Khmer music about ...New year, i feel as if I'm home.

"We will allow them to use the loudspeaker for dancing ... and we will organise a dance with males and females," he said, adding that only the low- and medium-level security prisoners will be allowed to join in.

Despite attempts by the prison chief to make the holiday enjoyable, many prisoners aren't looking forward to spending Khmer New Year in jail.

"I miss my homeland with the New Year arriving soon because during that time in the past I was happy with my family," said Keo Reaksmey, 39, who is serving an 8-year sentence for human trafficking.

Chheav Hourlay, a Licadho prison researcher, said that another source of sadness for the prisoners was watching their guards celebrate the holiday freely.

No money for monks

The director general at the Ministry of Interior's Prison Department, Heng Hak,  said he hoped that all the inmates would have the opportunity to be blessed by monks. But Cambodia's jails simply do not have the money to ensure that the monks show up.

"All the prisons in Cambodia will invite monks to bless the prisoners, but we haven't any budget to support them," he said.

But Mi Srey Phal, who is serving a seven-year sentence for trafficking drugs, said that although the New Year is a difficult time to be away from home, even the small efforts of the prison make the holiday a bit better.

"I feel so sad during the New Year, because I miss my family ... [but] at night when I listen to music about the New Year, I feel as if I'm home," she said.

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