Interior Minister Sar Kheng defended plans to create “pay-to-stay” luxury prisons yesterday, claiming the scheme would also help poorer prisoners by reducing overcrowding.

“The analysts said that this detention compound is for the rich prisoners. It is like that, if they did not have money, how can they live there?” he admitted, apparently referencing comments from Licadho’s Am Sam Ath.

A 2015 Licadho report found that cash flow already “dictated” life inside Cambodia’s prisons, with inmates forced to pay bribes for food, water, medical treatment and visitors.

On Wednesday, Sam Ath said the scheme put forward by Kheng would increase disparity within the correctional system, an analysis the Interior Minister said was “one dimensional”.

“When the rich prisoner rents the room, it will make the detention compound less crowded . . . At least the poor prisoner will have more space,” he said.

Overcrowding is a chronic issue in Cambodia’s prisons, with the prison population increasing by 30 percent in 2017. Prisoners have reported sleeping on the floor of a 20-square-metre cell shared with 30 other prisoners.

According to Kheng, the detention centres where prisoners would effectively pay rent would not be comparable to hotels.

“In some countries I can see that it is even beyond a guesthouse. It has a bed and mattress and other things . . . The girlfriend and wife can visit . . . We will not become like that,” he said.