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Wanted: More electric batons

6 Kandal Provincial Prison

The General Department of Prisons (GDP) has applied for funding to triple the number of electric batons in the Kingdom’s prisons, an official yesterday.

Be Tealeng, director of operations at the Ministry of Interior’s GDP, told the Post yesterday that the government had requested funding from the Ministry of Economy and Finance so it could keep building on its supplies at each of its prisons.

“Last year, we bought 50 electric batons, and this year, we have requested an amount of money that could buy . . . 100,” he said. “We have requested them every year, but it was only in 2012 that the government approved them for us.”

The request for more electric batons – introduced into Cambodia’s prisons just last year – was also mentioned in the GDP’s annual report, obtained late Friday.

GDP “requested . . . to purchase fire extinguishers, electronic batons, handcuffs and searching equipment for all prisons in Cambodia”, the report says. “No decision made yet.”

Jeff Vize, advocacy consultant at rights group Licadho, said prisoners often raised concerns about electric batons with his organisation.

“There are certainly dangers that these weapons can be misused,” he said. “Prisoners often report to Licadho that electric batons are used in interrogation, usually to try to elicit a confession.”

The US Department of State’s 2012 Human Rights Reports, released on April 19, state that the conditions in Cambodia’s prisons “remained harsh and at times life threatening”.

“[NGOs] reported that authorities tortured at least 97 prisoners [in 2012],” it says.

The report adds, however, that the majority of this torture, which included beatings, pistol-whippings and electric shocks, occurred in police custody, not prisons.

Tealeng said that since the introduction of electric batons in prisons, not a single violent incident had occurred.

“Electric batons are, in fact, for protecting [guards’] safety during the transport of prisoners to their hearings,” he said.

The number of people locked up in Cambodia remained steady in 2012 at about 15,000, the GDP report says – meaning that Cambodia’s prisons are still severely overcrowded.

A total of 686 prisoners were moved between prisons to cope with such density, the report adds.

The government was concerned about overcrowding and was working on ways to reduce the number of inmates in prison, Tealeng said.

“What we are working on are ways to send those who have small sentences to serve their time in their commune or district,” he said.

Vize said prisons Licadho monitored were still operating at about 170 per cent of their capacity.

“According to GDP, some of the transfers are designed to alleviate overcrowding at certain prisons,” he said. “But when every single prison is severely overcrowded, it can only do so much.

“We’re disappointed to see that the implementation of alternatives to prison – for example, more suspended sentences, community-service parole, limitations on pretrial detention and diversion to non-criminal drug treatment programs – continues to be so slow.”

According to the GDP’s figures, almost a quarter of those locked in Cambodia’s prisons in 2012 were awaiting trial.

About 10 per cent of total inmates were women, and 81 children were being raised inside by their jailed mothers.

The GDP plans to provide better health care for prisoners and to continue implementing the Ministry of Interior’s prison policy reform – passed in November 2011 – to improve living standards, the report adds.

As part of this initiative, hundreds have been given vocational training to assist their future reintegration into society.

The GDP also recommends prisons build Buddhist centres and improve conditions for employees.

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