Just three weeks after being ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen to examine its pardon application procedures amid a rash of violent crime nationwide, the Ministry of Justice announced today the end of pardons and early release altogether for prisoners who have committed serious offences.
“From now on, pardons for prisoners who have just a few months remaining to serve, will no longer be granted,” Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said yesterday, after a four-hour meeting of officials. “And we will also not consider pardoning big crimes . . . such as major robberies and drug [offences].”
Previously, authorities had not considered the nature of a crime when deciding whether to reduce a sentence or grant a pardon, but only looked at how much of the term had been served and how the attitude of the prisoner had changed, Malin added.
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana also acknowledged past problems with pardons, admitting that some inmates “have been imprisoned and released, and then robbed again and again after they left prison”.
However, to make the new policy work, Malin said, regular inspection of prisons would need to be strengthened to ensure any officials engaged in corrupt activities involving prisoners were identified and dealt with by the courts.
However, the prison system is facing a major challenge due to over-crowding, according to the operations department director of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, General Be Tea Leng.
Cambodia’s prisons have capacity to accommodate 12,000 prisoners, Leng said, but are currently coping with 17,896.
“The standard number of inmates a group cell is supposed to hold is eight,” he said. “But right now we are putting 28 or 30 prisoners in such a cell, and that’s an important issue.”
Leng said there was also a problem about confining in the same place prisoners who had committed crimes of differing levels of severity.
“We acknowledge that keeping together offenders who have committed minor, serious and very serious crimes is a challenge,” he said.
“But we are currently unable to separate prisoners into groups according to the seriousness of the offence they have committed.”
Last year, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that many judges in Cambodia were not familiar with rules on pre-trial detention, a problem campaigners have said boosts the prison population as large numbers of people are incarcerated for minor offences.
There were no plans to expand prison capacity, Leng added, but older prisons would continue to undergo repair.