More than two weeks since some 850 inmates were evacuated from Banteay Meanchey prison after floodwater caused a wall to collapse, the move is illuminating just how overcrowded their destinations are, an NGO worker has said.
Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant for rights group Licadho, said yesterday that according to recent numbers, more than 1,000 prisoners were being held in Battambang’s provincial prison and almost 2,000 in Siem Reap – the two chosen places of refuge for the evacuated prisoners.
According to a 2012 Licadho report, Battambang prison is designed to hold just 650 prisoners and the Siem Riep facility only 1,000.
Lack of space translates into adult and juvenile prisoners sharing space in Battambang, along with varying security levels and stretched resources in both provincial prisons, Critoph said.
“Both these prisons were already operating way over capacity. Now they have reached breaking point. The negative impact on prisoners and their families is already apparent, yet the prisons remain under-resourced and reliant on external donations,” she said, adding that up to 20 inmates are crammed into four-by-four-metre cells in both prisons.
Critoph emphasised the need for the post-evacuation situation to be a viewed as a constructive lesson for future overcrowding in the Kingdom’s prisons.
“The rights of prisoners should be at the forefront of future emergency planning in the likely event that this situation reoccurs,” she said, adding that 51 evacuees temporarily housed in Battambang prison had recently returned to Banteay Meanchey.
Prison officials from all three prisons declined to comment or provide any new numbers on prison capacity quotas.
The prison department pegged the system’s official capacity at 8,000 in 2010.
Among the 493 prisoners transferred to Siem Reap, none have been able to attend their individual trial proceedings, Chhem Savuth, the prison’s provincial director, said.
“There are no trial proceedings for the [evacuated] prisoners, because of the flooding, so the court has delayed them and we hope they might be able to be sent back by the end of this month,” Savuth said.
He added that inmates with communicable diseases had been separated from the rest of the prison population.
Chab Voleak, the program manager for Caritas’s prison program charged with providing medical care in prisons in Kampong Thom, Preah Vihear, Kratie and Mondulkiri, said that while overcrowding in the Siem Reap prison was problematic, the living situation for Banteay Meanchey evacuees could be significantly worse.
Banteay Meanchey inmates held at Siem Reap prison are living “much better lives than if they were living in floodwater”, Voleak said yesterday.
Hin Saphal, director of Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison, could not be reached
Hy Chamroeun, Battambang’s deputy provincial prison director, declined to comment.