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A convicted criminal lies on a bed at a hospital in Preah Sihanouk province before escaping last year
A convicted criminal lies on a bed at a hospital in Preah Sihanouk province before escaping last year. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Putting hospitals on lockdown

The government plans to extend the country’s still-limited capacity to treat ailing prisoners by building more secure rooms inside provincial hospitals.

As part of the General Department of Prisons’ 2014-2018 strategic plan, the Ministry of Interior hopes to have rooms specifically designated for prisoners in each of the 20 provinces with a municipal prison by 2018.

“We have prisons in 20 provinces but only have secure rooms [for prisoners] in five referral hospitals,” Kuy Bunsorn, director general of the General Department of Prisons, said. “As a result, we must continue implementing the plan to form more secure rooms for the prisoners, separating them from the other patients to respect the detainees’ rights.”

Now, all municipal prisons are equipped with basic health centres, but for any serious illnesses inmates are supposed to be taken to referral hospitals, most of which lack secure and separate rooms to prevent escape during detainee treatment.

The ministry’s 2018 goal follows a similar agenda outlined in the 2008-2013 strategic plan, which saw only slender gains in health services for prisoners, Bunsorn said.

“The new plan is to continue implementing what we have done previously.”

Officials did not provide any specifics on how the new four-year plan could succeed where the last agenda came up short.

According to Ministry of Interior officials, the present objective is slated to begin with discussions among provincial and municipal health departments, along with provincial referral hospitals.

Officials declined to provide the budgetary details for the project.

Bunsorn also cast doubt on whether the full plan could be achieved by 2018, though he said the ministry would make “efforts” in the following years.

Am Sam Ath, a technical advisor to rights group Licadho, said more secure rooms in hospitals could improve prisoners’ rights.

“What we see is that when the ill prisoners are kept with the normal patients in the hospitals they are handcuffed. This affects their rights,” he said. But for the prison department, the issue at stake is more closely related to preventing detainee escapes during medical treatment.

Last month, a detainee escaped from a hospital in Koh Kong while seeking medical treatment for migraines.

Last year, three Battambang prisoners escaped from a low security room reserved for the sick, and a Preah Sihanouk inmate ran out of a hospital while guards were sleeping.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA

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