Cambodia's prisons have long been known for severe overcrowding, with Interior Minister Sar Kheng announcing last year the construction of a “hotel-like” pay-to-stay prison block for inmates to address the issue.
The first such facility, built at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison as a model, is set to open early next year. A joint venture between the government and a Cambodian-owned company, the three-storey block would be a far cry from typical prison cells, where scores often share a single latrine.
However, the $4 million facility would not be as luxurious as a hotel, with a senior official at the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP) pointing out that the only luxury the new prison block offers is space.
GDP spokesperson Sorn Keo told The Post on Tuesday that the pay-to-stay facility will be operated under the same standards as other prisons, with inmates receiving equal treatment.
“The new building is for prisoners who can afford to pay. Even though prisoners can pay money to stay there, they will be treated on par with others and under normal prison conditions."
“The facility will be managed under the same standards. There will be no air conditioners and no mattresses. Prisoners can pay for bigger space [in the cell]."
“They will have fans like in normal public prisons. Whatever normal prisons have, the new prison block will have the same. This is not a hotel-prison,” he said.
Prey Sar prison is separated into two facilities – Correctional Centre 1 and Correctional Centre 2.
The former is for male detainees, while the latter is for women.
The new pay-to-stay block was developed by Kunn Rekon Holdings Company, a Cambodian-Korean joint venture on a 1ha plot. Construction started in May last year and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
During the groundbreaking ceremony in May last year, the company’s deputy director, Yao Chen Ming, said the buildings will be able to accommodate 1,200 inmates, including 180 undergoing drug rehabilitation.
Rights group Adhoc’s spokesperson Soeng Senkarona said pay-to-stay prisons are unwarranted as inmates in developed countries also live in the same prisons.
“I welcome prison reform, but not this kind of reform which allows wealthy prisoners to stay separately from others. In other developed countries, prisons offer beds. They provide the same amenities to rich and poor inmates. Whatever is given in prisons, inmates should receive them equally,” he said.
Senkarona said there should be no separation between prisoners who are poor, wealthy, and disgraced senior government officials. “If we have modern prison facilities, I am worried that prisoners will not be afraid of punishment,” he said.
Cambodia’s prison population swelled to more than 28,000 inmates last year – well over the system’s capacity.
In 2016, there were around 22,000 inmates, with 7,500 in pre-trial detention. A report released by GDP in February showed that the prison population had ballooned by some 30 per cent last year to 28,414, with more than 10,000 locked up in pre-trial detention.