The number of people imprisoned for drug offences in Cambodia more than doubled in 2011, putting further pressure on an overburdened prison system, rights group Licadho said yesterday.
Although government figures show only a small percentage rise in the number of inmates in the Kingdom’s prisons, more than 2,700 people were being held on drug charges last November, up from 1,046 a year earlier, said a Licadho report.
Beyond Capacity 2012: A Progress Report on Cambodia’s Prison Population, released yesterday, states that the sharp rise correlates with the government’s recent overt efforts to crack down on drugs.
“While many experts agree that drug trafficking is a growing problem in Cambodia, it is not clear that the drug crackdown has actually addressed the problem,” the report states.
Licadho has made recommendations that courts consider alternatives to prisons, such as community service, bail and suspended sentences, but two years on, “little concrete progress has been made”.
“There are still some very disturbing trends,” she said. “Authorities packed an extra 1,700 drug offenders into the system . . . There are cheaper and more effective ways to deal with drug problems.”
David Harding, an international adviser on drugs for Friends International, said the government had made some efforts to move drug offenders into rehabilitation centres.
“There are problems [however] with implementation [of alternatives to prison] because the infrastructure is not in place,” he said.
The report also identifies a link between an increase in drug offenders in prison and an increase in mothers raising children behind bars.
Licadho said yesterday that it was also investigating reports that 89 people had fallen ill after being packed in to a 34-x-24-metre cell in Pailin provincial prison last month.
Liv Mauv, deputy director of General Department of Prison (GDP) at the Ministry of Interior, said more prisons were not necessarily needed.
“Many of these people imprisoned over drugs and alcohol won’t be locked up for very long.”