A senior Ministry of Interior official said condition in prison cells across the nation have improved while the management of detainees is safer and more secure.

The statement was made by Chhem Savuth, head of the ministry’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), during its March 25 annual meeting.

Savuth said the interior and justice ministries have been mindful of solving the challenges of maintaining cells which ensure the health and safety of all prisoners.

He said there are 173 buildings at all correctional centres and prisons across the country, with 1,014 rooms totalling 54,081sqm.

Management of detainees in 2021 also improved, with a focus on security and order. The improvements were partially brought about through the enforcement of laws, following procedures and internal rules at individual prisons, he said.

Also contributing factors to the improvements were the system of classification of security levels for detainees, a reduction in overcrowding, the transfer of some detention centre management tasks and the referral of some convicts to correctional centres.

Pao Ham Phan, interior ministry secretary of state who attended the meeting on behalf of interior minister Sar Kheng, praised the efforts taken by officials of all levels under the GDP to implement their plan of action in 2021. Their efforts had ensured the GDP achieved the mission set for it in the government’s strategic plan for prison development, in line with the interior ministry’s prison reform policy.

Ham Phan thanked all stakeholders and development partners for their cooperation and partnership in supporting the prisons and correctional centres in the capital and provinces on projects related to security, hygiene, infrastructure construction, vocational training and the reintegration of detainees back into their communities.

He said prisons and correctional centres had faced the risk of Covid-19, but thankfully the government had been mindful and vaccinated detainees, who were now reaching their third vaccinations.

GDP chief Chhem Savuth visits Banteay Meanchey Prison. CHHEM SAVUTH VIA FACEBOOK

The annual meeting focused on prison reform, security classification to control detainees involved in drug crimes, solving the overcrowding issue, vocational training, mental health education, the provision of health services and measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Other challenges, related to rehabilitation and the preparation of prisoners for a return to society, were also discussed in depth.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of human rights group Licadho, said he acknowledged the efforts made by the ministry to improve conditions in prison. Nevertheless, he said the infrastructures and buildings are not yet up to the standard required to solve the problem of overcrowding.

“The number of detainees in prison is still increasing, especially with the surge in those incarcerated for drug crime. It is easy to see that the jails remain overcrowded,” he said.

The problem makes the guards’ job of managing the prisoners more difficult and therefore has serious impacts on the lives of the prisoners. Detainees suffered from poor health and stress, leading to high blood pressure in many cases, he added.

“I don’t think prison overcrowding has been successfully solved. NGOs have made recommendations previously that could solve the problem, but those solutions were mainly related to court procedures. The courts should take the fundamental rights of detainees into consideration and release them on bail for minor cases or petty crimes,” he said.