Under new program, prisoners can pay to use phones of prison guards to contact family
A Pursat prison guard in a guard post outside the main building.
PURSAT prison has launched a new program that allows inmates to use mobile phones to keep in touch with their relatives, Nguon Lay, the prison's director, told the Post Sunday.
Nguon Lay said the program was designed to make it easier for concerned family members to keep tabs on their incarcerated relatives, noting that it enables prisoners "to tell [family members] about their situation in the prison, and when they get sick".
He said some families would have no way of knowing that a relative had been incarcerated without the service.
Prisoners must pay a fee of 500 riels (US$0.12) per minute to use the mobile phones, which belong to the prison guards, Nguon Lay said, adding that the program began about four months ago.
Heng Hak, director general of prisons at the Ministry of Interior, said he had not heard of the program and did not know whether similar programs were in place at other prisons.
"If any prison wants to create this service, they should submit a permission form to us," he told the Post last week.
Costs and benefits
Mam Sarin, 46, a former inmate at Pursat prison who was released February 18, said prisoners were allowed to make calls between 7am and 11am, and again between 2:30pm and 4:30pm. He said prisoners were charged 1,000 riels per minute to place outgoing calls and 500 riels per minute to receive calls made to the phones.
Sam Srey Nga, the wife of an inmate at Pursat prison, said calling her husband was more economical and more rewarding than making the trip from her home in Banteay Meanchey province to visit him in person.
"Before, I needed to pay a lot of money for travelling to visit him at the prison, and I could meet him only for 15 minutes," she said. "But by phone I can talk with him longer and save money."
She said she has had little difficulty reaching her husband by phone.
"I only tell the guard where I am calling from and the name of the prisoner I want to talk to, and the guard passes the phone to him," she said. "I got the private mobile number when my husband called me and told me to call that number when I wanted to reach him."
Phuong Sothea, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the phone would be especially useful for relatives like Sam Srey Nga who live far away from the prison.
"They can talk to the family, and they will know the situation of their family," he said.
But he said the cost of the service should be lowered.