The number of detainees in Cambodia prisons has risen steadily to almost 50,000. This is an unprecedented number for the Kingdom, according to Nouth Savna, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP).

In an interview with the interior ministry’s television station, broadcast today, Savna explained that despite the expansion of prison facilities, there is still not enough space to accommodate the growing number of inmates.

“I believe additional prison infrastructure would only be a short-term solution. We can spend millions or even billions of dollars on expanding jails, but remember that the more prisons we build, the more prisoners will come in,” he said.

“At present, the total area of our facilities has increased to 60,000 square metres, but the number of inmates is still increasing. We have nearly 50,000 detainees, a historical high. This is not a proud achievement, but a concern,” he added.

Savna believed that the only long-term solution is to modernise the criminal justice system, including the joint work of the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Affairs, state institutions, NGOs and the private sector. 

One possibility would be allowing the implementation of community sentences or other flexible options.

He noted that in his experience, in many neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, detention was imposed only for serious cases or high-level offending. In minor cases, suspects could be bailed before trial, which alleviates overcrowding.

He said the Japanese system allows for detainees in mild cases to be released on bail, while in Singapore, parole is often granted to inmates who have almost completed their sentences. 

“Doing so saves the national budget, as we no longer have to allocate expenditure for food, medicine, security, uniforms, fuel, transportation, electricity or water ... everything,” he explained.

Savna added that GPS ankle monitoring units were in widespread use in many places where suspects were bailed or inmates were paroled. 

While visiting Thailand, he was told that each GPS unit cost around $200. He compared this with the $1,000 spent by the state each year to house and feed each prisoner.

The GDP is working closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the embassy of Japan on the issue, according to Savna.

In recent years, the justice ministry has been conducting a campaign to reduce the backlog of court cases across the country. Officials have claimed that the campaign significantly reduced overcrowding in the Kingdom’s prisons.