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Prison numbers creep up

Prison numbers creep up

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Minister of Interior Sar Kheng speaks during the annual meeting of the Department of Prisons in Phnom Penh today.

Prison officials at the Ministry of Interior said today that the number of prisoners increased by 5.1 percent in 2010 compared with a year earlier, putting further pressure on the Kingdom’s overburdened correctional facilities.

Kuy Bunson, deputy director of the ministry’s Department of Prisons, said that as of December 15, 14,043 prisoners were interned in the Kingdom’s jails, 718 up on the previous year.

Of these, 6,836 were incarcerated during the course of 2010.

Speaking at the department’s annual meeting in Phnom Penh today, Kuy Bunson said that due to severe overcrowding in Phnom Penh’s prisons, 669 prisoners were transferred to provincial facilities during 2010.

Overcrowding has long been a problem in the country’s penal system, which has an official capacity of about 8,000.

Kuy Bunson said that in order to alleviate the problem, the government is pushing ahead with plans to expand the country’s overall prison capacity, with new prisons to be established in Pailin and Oddar Meanchey provinces.

They will supplement recently completed facilities in Banteay Meanchey and Prey Veng.

He said the department has also established Correctional Centre 4, its first agricultural detention centre, in Pursat province, constructing four provisional wooden detention buildings that can accommodate 280 detainees.

Officials hope that CC4, opened in January 2010, will eventually hold 2,500 inmates.

“In order to address the small space problem in detention, detainees have participated in industrial and agricultural programmes,” he added.

Nut Sa An, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said the spike in the number of inmates posed major health concerns and made it difficult to control prisoners.

“Small space in detention results in many issues which impact the implementation of the detention reform strategy, such as [prisoners’] mental and physical health,” he said.

In July, local rights group Licadho reported that Cambodia’s prisons could be the most overcrowded in the world inside a decade without broad-based reform of the country’s criminal justice system.

The report stated that even substantial increases in capacity over the next few years will do little to stop the overcrowding plaguing the country’s penal system.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for Licadho, said some prisons designed to hold 600 prisoners were housing as many as 1,500, contributing to the spread of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.

“This problem impacts on the detainees’ mental health and blood vessels, which causes them to die from high blood pressure,” he said.

Last year’s increase of 5.1 percent is down on the 14 percent average annual growth in the prison population over the past five years.

But even assuming a five percent annual growth rate – something it described as conservative – Licadho’s report stated that the prison system will still be at 165 percent of capacity in 2019.

Am Sam Ath said the problem derived in part from the justice system, which remands large numbers of suspects in custody rather than granting them bail. Last year, the Department of Prisons reported that about a third of the prison population was made up by defendants awaiting trial.

“If the judges didn’t grant some criminal defendants bail … the building of four correctional centres in Pursat or Pailin provinces would still not be enough for those prisoners,” he said.

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