One of Cambodia’s most notorious prisons now houses 6,000 inmates – more than three times its maximum capacity – despite prisoners twice being transferred to a new correctional centre in recent months, a prison official said yesterday.
Kim Sarin, deputy general director at the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, said overcrowding at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh, also known as Correctional Centre 1, forced the department to make two transfers of inmates to a new prison in Pursat province.
“The standard capacity is between 1,600 and 1,800 people, but now we contain more than 6,000 people,” Sarin said.
According to Sarin, prisoners were also recently transferred from Kampong Chhnang Provincial Prison to the Pursat facility in recent months, although he did not know how many.
The new prison in Pursat, known as Correctional Centre 4 (CC4), is still under construction and covers an area of roughly 700 hectares.
“We have almost finished phase one [out of four phases], which contains eight buildings,” Sarin said.
A new prison in Takeo province is also under construction, according to Sarin, as well as a private prison for wealthy inmates in Pursat. A new prison in Preah Sihanouk also opened in May.
Civil society organisations have been watching Cambodia’s swelling prison population with concern. The number of inmates jumped by 23 percent to nearly 22,000 last year, according to the Ministry of Interior. More than one-third of inmates were in pretrial detention.
Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy for local rights group Licadho, said the three recent transfers of prisoners to Pursat was “terrible” news.
“CC4 prison is one of the most remote prisons in Cambodia, which will greatly affect access to these detainees by lawyers, families and NGOs,” she said in a message.
Most of the recent detainees were nabbed during a drug crackdown that started at the beginning of this year.
“The government must undertake new reforms and cannot just build new prisons or move detainees from one [prison] to another prison to address the acute increase of detainees,” Pilorge said.
“What is now critical is [a] bail system for nonviolent offenders or suspects,” she added.
Sarin said that overcrowding has created “many challenges, including health, administration and rehabilitation issues.”
“The overcrowding impacts all sectors controlling the prison,” he said.
Additional reporting by Daphne Chen