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Prisoner influx worries warden

An influx of suspected drug dealers to Kampong Chhnang’s jail has led its director to plead with the provincial officials for help amid fears that the prison authorities will soon be unable to control inmates.

Pov Vuthy, Kampong Chhnang prison director, said yesterday that the recent arrival of 80 suspected drug criminals – almost a fifth of the prior prison population – had strained resources and left guards struggling to cope with the swelling numbers of detainees.

“We have already requested suggested courses of action from the General Directorate of Prisons,” Vuthy said. “I am concerned because they are all drug inmates and they all know one another.”

He added that he was hoping for a swift transfer of the new arrivals to other facilities.

“As far as I am concerned, they will be transferred [on Tuesday] or the day after, after we get approval from the general director,” he said.

The inflow of the 80 suspected drug dealers, who prison authorities believe knew each other from the outside, had already increased the trade in contraband, Vuthy said.

Since a road was recently built around the jail, the smuggling of mobile phones, cigarettes and other controlled items – which are simply thrown over the walls to waiting inmates – has reportedly skyrocketed.

Contraband “is always thrown inside when our guards take a break for meals, and especially at night,” Vuthy said.

“I’ve asked the provincial governor to close the roads around the prison at night for our safety.”

Overcrowding in Cambodian prisons has become a serious human rights issue, according to local group Licadho, which is the only non-governmental group with access to prisons that regularly publishes its findings.

Since 2000, the prison population has roughly tripled. However, the expansion of prison facilities has not kept pace, with the latest figures suggesting that current overcrowding stands at more than 178 per cent.

Chuor Chandoeun, the provincial governor, declined to comment, adding that he had not yet received the letter from Vuthy requesting the prisoners’ transfers.

Kuy Bunsorn, the general director of prisons at the Ministry of Interior, could not be reached yesterday.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for Licadho, said a series of drug arrests in the area had led to a precarious situation at the jail.

“Recently, leading drug traffickers [in the area] have been apprehended, and drug users can cause many problems for other prisoners, because they might deal drugs in jail if there are not strict controls,” he said.

Wan-Hea Lee, representative for the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, said while Kampong Chhnang was not the worst case, criminality and overcrowding remained serious problems at the facility.

“The problem of overcrowding in Cambodian prisons is a long-standing issue. In the case of the Kampong Chhnang prison, overcrowding has worsened over the past year,” she said.

“We understand that the General Department of Prisons has approved the transfer of 80 prisoners out of Kampong Chhnang prison and that the decision should be implemented soon.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE

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