Every member of Cambodia’s 15,000-strong prison population will have access to a library by 2014, Prime Minister Hun Sen vowed yesterday.
In a speech marking the graduation of hundreds of university students, the prime minister said prisoners are “citizens . . . and they can build their knowledge when they are in prison.”
Currently, three of the Kingdom’s 27 prisons are equipped with libraries, the projects of NGOs. They range from purpose-built buildings with complementing prisoner education projects to simple book services, where prisoners can order titles to their cells.
This year, the government signed a memorandum of understanding with French NGO Soutien à L’Initiative Privée pour L’Aide à la Reconstruction (SIPAR), supported by $500,000 from the European Union, to set up libraries in 10 prisons, with plans to build libraries in the country’s other prisons within the next three years.
The existing libraries, in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar and the provincial prisons in Battambang and Siem Reap, hold a range of Khmer titles for different reading levels, including romance, history and adventure genres, educational texts, picture books and magazines.
“We could conservatively estimate that 70 per cent of the prisoners would have little to no literacy,” Prison Fellowship Cambodia director Adam Hutchinson said.
His prisoner-education NGO trains literate inmates to teach others to read, and says that so far it has increased more than 3,500 inmates’ literacy levels.
Licadho prison project consultant Jeff Vize said any new education program for the overcrowded prison system, which has experienced a surge in drug offenders, would be beneficial and that equal access to the services was crucial.
Access to books would give all prisoners, including children living in jail with their parents, the chance to develop their literacy and education levels, SIPAR director Hok Sothik said.
“My staff are bringing in equipment to put in seven other libraries that we have already built,” he said. “Those libraries will open next month.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Mom Kunthear and Rosa Ellen at [email protected]