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Overcrowding bane of prison health

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Prisoners sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison during children’s day.

Overcrowing is the main contributor to the spread of serious diseases in prisons across the Kingdom, according to officials who spoke yesterday at an inter-ministerial meeting focusing on inmate health.
The seminar was a joint effort by the ministries of inter-ior and health.

Koy Boun Sorn, director- general of the Ministry of Interior’s prison department, explained that overcrowding was a serious issue that needed to be addressed by the Cambodian government.

“The inmates’ health is very important. We want to prevent them from carrying their diseases into the outside world once they are released, so we need to ensure they maintain good health while they’re here,” he said, urging doctors to separate inmates known to be carrying disease.

“To avoid health problems, we need to build more cells,” he said.

Keeping inmates healthy should be a priority for prison officials and doctors, Koy Boun Sorn added.  It was also important, he said, to strengthen the quality of prison doctors and ensure that nearby health centers were adequately supplied with appropriate medicines.

Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, agreed that overcrowding was deleterious to inmates’ health, calling for restraint in the number of people put behind bars.

“The prison department, police and courts should discuss ways to avoid imprisoning people for minor offences,” he said.

He also pointed to poor sanitary conditions, a lack of food and sub-standard doctors as worsening the problem.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said overcrowding seriously affected prisoners’ health by restricting air flow and enabling the rapid spread of disease.

“Some prisoners have to take turns sleeping because there isn’t enough sleeping space and some prisoners use bathrooms as cells because of a lack of space,” he said.

A draft prison law aimed at addressing many of these iss-ues is set to be debated in the National Assembly today.

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