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Pressure on courts, prisons

The Phnom Penh military police have called for judges to hand out tougher sentences to snatch-and-run thieves whose actions cause injury or death, while also implicitly condemning the prison system for failing to reform inmates.

The remarks, included in an annual report released by the municipal gendarmerie yesterday, come on the heels of criticism of the courts by the chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, Deputy Prime Minister Ke Yim Yan, over what he said were lenient jail terms given to drug traffickers.

Discussing thieves who snatch property, often aboard motorbikes, the report noted that “sometimes offenders have a brutal nature and cause serious harm for the victims, scare the public and incite hatred”.

It continued: “[We] request the court to charge snatching offenders and use the maximum punishment in order to prolong [their jail terms] because [their actions] may cause injury, disability or death”.

The report, which noted that gendarmes dealt with 303 felony crimes in 2016 compared to 270 in 2015, also complained that many people released from jail were continuing to commit violent crimes. National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy yesterday declined to elaborate on the issues, calling them merely “observations”.

Sorn Keo, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, yesterday played down the problem of recidivism, calling it an individual problem rather than a reflection on the system.

“It is not only in Cambodia, but in many countries that people who leave prison reoffend,” he said. “We cannot blame the prison’s education [services].”

But Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, said the report merely skimmed the surface of a complex problem, born of, among other things, mixing felony and misdemeanour prisoners, a high rate of pre-trial detention, severe overcrowding and a lack of services to prepare prisoners to re-enter society.

“There is absolutely no rehabilitation in prison. If anything, you learn to become more violent,” Pilorge said.

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