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Government addresses overcrowding

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A guard watches over the gate outside Prey Sar prison in 2009. The ministries of Justice and Interior have begun a joint initiative to expedite legal procedures aimed at addressing Cambodia’s growing problem of overcrowded prisons. Tracey Shelton

Government addresses overcrowding

The ministries of Justice and Interior have begun a joint initiative to expedite legal procedures aimed at addressing Cambodia’s growing problem of overcrowded prisons.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, provincial courts, and prison officials have gathered documents on more than 50 per cent of the cases.

As part of this initiative, they will review the cases of detainees awaiting legal proceedings, examine the reasons for any delays and seek an effective solution for prison overcrowding on a “case-by-case basis”.

The initiative comes following comments made by Interior Minister Sar Kheng on December 3, in which he said slow legal procedures for prisoners in pre-trial detention were a major cause of prison overcrowding, which consequently negatively impacted inmate conditions.

Sar Kheng cited national statistics which showed that Cambodia’s 28 prisons were well over capacity, housing 30,000 prisoners, 20,000 of which were awaiting court procedures.

Consequently, this newly established team – a joint initiative by the ministries of Justice and Interior – has been charged with expediting court legal procedures in order to ease the problem of prison overcrowding.

“There has not been any formal meeting yet, but we have already started collecting data regarding detainees in prisons."

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“Officials have been collecting data to know how many detainees are awaiting court procedures and how many detainees are without court verdicts, as well as the circumstances behind each case,” Malin said.

Human rights group Adhoc spokesperson Soeung Sen Karuna supported the progress made in collecting the documents for analysis, saying he was happy to see the government addressing the issue of prison overcrowding.

“People detained for relatively minor crimes are often put in pre-trial detention, and this is something we’ve seen an increase of. So we are happy to see the Ministry of Justice looking at this issue,” he said.