A Ministry of Justice official appeared to revive the possibility of an alternative sentencing program that would reduce overcrowding in prisons by assigning small-time offenders to community service.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin, who spoke to reporters briefly after a closed-door meeting with the UN’s interim human rights representative Simon Walker on Friday, said the ministry needs time to study the concept further.
“We don’t want to put [offenders] in jail, which would be a waste of the skills and knowledge they have and make the prison crowded,” Malin said.
In a message yesterday, Walker directed questions about the program to the ministry.
UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith first pitched the idea during her fact-finding mission in August, to praise from civil society organisations.
The Ministry of Justice proposed a pilot in Battambang province but backtracked after a senior Justice Ministry official challenged the idea in September due to concerns that the public would assume suspects had been released due to corruption and take matters into their own hands.
Malin confirmed yesterday that the ministry is still open to the idea, but only for convicted offenders, not those in pre-trial detention.
“They are not freed,” Malin said. “They are still under the surveillance of the authority of the court.”
Nuth Savna, deputy chief of the General Department of Prisons, said he would welcome the pilot project and that it would help reduce prison overcrowding. Cambodia currently has about 30,000 prisoners and detainees, according to Savna.