The following are UN recommendations that the government has accepted and is in the process of implementing:
- Increase the daily food ration per prisoner from 1,500 riels’ (US$0.36) to 2,800 riels’ worth.
- Review prisoner committees – bodies set up to manage inmates – following their implication in abuse of prisoners.
- Combat corruption within the prison system, including allegations of prison workers charging money for family visits and other services.
- Establish minimum standards for the design and construction of prisons.
PRISONERS in Pursat province’s Correctional Centre 4 on Tuesday began a vocational training programme aimed at teaching them agricultural skills, prison officials said, as part of a new approach to the Kingdom’s ever-growing inmate population.
Rights groups have long voiced concern that prisoners in Cambodia are subject to abuse bordering on torture, chronic overcrowding and other hardships. Government officials say the agricultural programme at CC4 is part of a broader effort to implement needed reforms and give prisoners marketable skills that might reduce their risk of recidivism upon release.
Hin Sophal, the chief of CC4, said the centre would eventually house about 2,500 prisoners on 846 hectares of land. The facility’s first 66 prisoners began arriving in November of last year, and on Tuesday they began ploughing about 12 hectares of land around their housing blocks.
“We are teaching all the prisoners who stay in this prison how to plant vegetables, fruit and rubber trees, so that when they are released from prison, they have their own skills,” Hin Sophal said.
Heng Hak, director of the prison department at the Ministry of Interior, said that officials hadn’t yet chosen crops to cultivate, but were considering corn, beans, cassava and sesame.
The agricultural training, he said, is designed to give prisoners an outlet for pent-up energy while they are behind bars, thereby reducing their chance of being exposed to violence.
“We have had some cases in which prisoners torture each other, but after we allow them to leave their cells and do some exercise while growing vegetables and taking part in short training courses, these incidents will not happen,” Heng Hak said.
The national prison system is currently stretched beyond its capacity. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said last month that
Cambodia’s 25 detention facilities were capable of housing just 8,000 prisoners, far below the 13,325 they held during 2009. The country’s inmate population, Khieu Sopheak added, is currently increasing at a rate of 7.6 percent per year.
With 70 prisoners expected to arrive at CC4 today from Kampong Chhnang and Battambang provinces, Hin Sophal said, the government hopes the facility will help to ameliorate overcrowding. “This prison can be a help to those prisons that are currently overburdened,” he said.
The development of CC4 follows Kampong Cham province’s CC3, which provides agricultural and carpentry training for long-term prisoners, as well as CCs 1 and 2 at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison. CC1, for male prisoners, provides agricultural and industrial training, whereas CC2, for female and juvenile prisoners, focuses on fabricating garments.
Marie-Dominique Parent, officer in charge of the Prison Reform Support Programme of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Cambodian prison system is in the process of shifting “from a security-based effort to a rehabilitation-based effort”.
According to the Ministry of Interior’s Policy Framework for Prison Reform, adopted in May 2008, correctional centres are to be “the place where convicted prisoners are administered and will undertake the rehabilitation programme through participating in prison industry and farming”.
Ham Sunrith, deputy director of monitoring and protection for the local rights group Licadho, said he welcomed the progressive approach to detention evinced in vocational training programmes, though he emphasised the need for oversight as such programmes evolve.
“We welcome the establishment of vocational training for prisoners, because this will allow prisoners to develop their skills and support themselves when they are released from prison,” Ham Sunrith said, though he added: “Prisoners’ labour must not be exploited – the programme must be in the prisoners’ individual interest.”
Parent agreed, saying that government officials and development partners “don’t want to end up condoning forced labour”.
Currently, Parent said, vocational training programmes are being developed primarily for the correctional centres, though in the long term, she added, an expansion of such programmes to smaller prisons “is definitely part of the plan”.
“It’s developing, and it’s developing in the right direction compared to the situation a few years back, where prisoners were locked up with no vocational training at all,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE