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Drug rehab ‘eases’ prison crowding

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Detainees are brought to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for hearings. Heng Chivoan

Drug rehab ‘eases’ prison crowding

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has advised that municipal and provincial governors consult with relevant ministries to study the possibility of setting up drug rehabilitation centres to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

The suggestion came on February 23 at a meeting to review the ministry interior’s work results of 2021 and the work direction of 2022.

He described overcrowding as one of the biggest challenges to the management of prisons. Due to the backlog of court cases and the state of disrepair of prison infrastructure, there has been a large increase in the number of detainees, he noted.

To address the problem, Sar Kheng provided guidance on a number of key measures that should be taken to further develop the infrastructure, especially dilapidated buildings that could pose a risk to security and safety in prisons.

He said the General Department of Prisons (GDP) must cooperate with relevant ministries and institutions to check and treat detainees who use illegal drugs and initiate programmes to ensure their rehabilitation.

“Provinces that can afford it should set up drug education and correction centres to reduce overcrowding and crime at the local level,” he advised.

For the centres, Sar Kheng suggested that the governors work with the ministries of Interior; Justice; Economy and Finance; Health; and Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation; as well as the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD).

“The interior ministry will initiate the process. The justice ministry conducts hearings and convictions. Some detainees have not yet received their final verdicts, so it will be difficult to enrol them in the centres. I have spoken with justice minister Koeut Rith, who supports this plan, so we will have his cooperation,” he said.

“The finance ministry has the money. If we do not have the financing, regardless of our will, we will not accomplish anything. We will have to propose an efficient budget,” he added.

Sar Kheng also called for the support and participation of both national and international partners.

“We welcome the participation of international friends as well as local and international civil society and NGOs who wish to support this work,” he said.

In order to improve the vocational education of inmates, he instructed the GDP to study industrial and agro-industrial programmes in prisons and examine the systems required to put prisoners to work.

“The department should also determine procedures for integrating released prisoners back into the community and record their post-release behaviour,” he added.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, supported the idea of using rehabilitation centres to reduce overcrowding. He said the centres must ensure that prisoners rights are respected so that the treatment centres are effective and above criticism.

“Some prisons already have drug rehabilitation centres, but they are widely criticised and are yet to be operated to an acceptable standard,” he said.

Interior ministry secretary-general Por Pheak said that in 2021, the police had investigated 5,974 drug crimes involving 12,672 people and seized 3,554.13kg of drugs and more than one tonne of chemical precursors.

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