The Ministry of Justice, court chiefs and prosecutors from across the Kingdom on Friday held a meeting to identify immediate and short-term measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons, with a focus on drug offenses.

Ministry spokesman Chin Malin told The Post on Sunday that the meeting outlined three priorities. They included easing the burden on court systems by improving facilities, human resources and access to finance to offer higher capacity to courts.

Secondly, courts should speed up procedures involving drug offenses and thirdly implement short-term measures on light drug offenders in line with legal procedures and the principles of humanity.

Regarding the last point, he said light drug offenders could be released on bail, given suspended sentences, or sentenced to only the duration they had already served in pre-trial detention.

“For light drug offenses, it is not necessary to detain people. There should be an alternative, for instance an educational or rehabilitation measure.

“This will help to reduce overcrowding in prisons. However, this is not an option for serious drug offenders,” Malin said.

Those who would fall under the principles of humanity and obtain clemency, he said, include pregnant women, and women with children in prison. These are immediate, short-term actions to solve prison overcrowding.

“As for long-term measures, we will consider expanding the number of courtrooms and human resources to enable the courts to solve cases quicker. The regional appeal courts will also contribute to the acceleration of court process.

“We are also establishing a specialised court, meaning that certain judges will be assigned to certain cases, rather than judges who solve all cases,” he said.

Malin said the group will put forward its recommendations to the Ministry of Justice, which will then look into them accordingly.

Meantime, he said the anti-drug campaign would continue until the Kingdom sees success in prevention, education and rehabilitation.

Meas Vyrith, the secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), said on Sunday that more than 20,400 suspects were arrested in 9,806 drug cases last year. Of the figure, 1,353 were women.

He said since the beginning of this year, the NACD arrested 4,032 people in 2008 drug cases, including 258 women.

Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said the recommendations were apt to solve prison overcrowding.

He also urged the ministry to implement a community-based approach for light drug offenders.

“It should look at the cases of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners. If there is still doubt, the authorities should consider dropping the charges against them. If there is no evidence, just return their freedom,” he said.

He also encouraged the government to review the sentences of prisoners who had respected the prison rules and completed the bulk of their sentences. He said such prisoners should be released if they had shown a commitment to improving themselves.

“These measures could further help dramatically reduce the overcrowding in the prison,” he stressed.