Drug use in Cambodia’s prison system is not limited to inmates alone. Prison guards too have been found to be using illicit substances, senior prison officials have acknowledged, with the government set to launch an investigation into the prevalence of drug use among prison staff in rural areas.
Speaking during an annual meeting of the Ministry of Interior on Thursday, Huy Hoeun, deputy director general of prisons, said that Correctional Centre 4 (CC4) in Pursat province had recently carried out some blood testing of both prisoners and guards, and found traces of drugs in some staff members, as well as the inmates.
“It was not only prisoners but also prison officials, and it is not only in Correctional [Centre] 4, but also in other prisons – we have to acknowledge this,” he said.
Hoeun said that overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons made it increasingly difficult to detect drug circulation.
Ouk Kemchon, director of CC4 in Phnom Kravanh district, confirmed yesterday that 10 guards had failed the drug test last month and had since been barred from working in the cellblocks.
They are now completing administrative duties at the prison until senior officials decide on how to pursue the case, he added.
“They used to use drugs and they are still addicted, but they promised that they will turn their lives around,” he said.
General Be Tea Leng, operations department director of the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons, acknowledged yesterday that CC4 was not an isolated case.
The director cited a past case in Kandal province where, he said, two prison officials had failed a drug test.
“It could be in the other provinces, but we’re doing an investigation into other provinces,” he said.
He said that it was easier for drug use to go undetected in rural areas where there was limited oversight, but declined to comment further on the extent of the investigation.
Speaking at an annual Interior Ministry drug conference early last month, National Authority for Combating Drugs president Ke Kim Yan controversially denounced Cambodia’s prison and rehab system, saying that they were riddled with drugs.
Am Sam Ath, senior coordinator at Licadho, said he would not be surprised if prison officials in other provinces were using drugs, as they were exposed to illicit substances while conspiring with drug users to sneak them into prisons.
“They need to strengthen their checking system in order to prevent corruption, drug distribution and use in prisons, and punish wrong-doers,” he said.
Officials declined to comment yesterday on the type of drugs found in the testing of prison officials.