Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prison population swells




Prison population swells

People sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh earlier this year.
People sit in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh earlier this year. Vireak Mai

Prison population swells

Cambodia's badly overcrowded prison population leapt by nearly 20 per cent in the first 10 months of this year, government data show, raising serious health concerns.

The figures, released by the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons yesterday, show that there were 17,522 prisoners in jails across the country at the end of October, compared with 14,780 in detention in December 2014, an increase of more than 18 per cent.

In September 2014, a report from rights group Licadho pegged the nation’s prison occupancy rate at 179 per cent of capacity.

Nut Savanea, spokesman for the general department of prisons, said yesterday that the spike was due to increased drug arrests and a lethargic justice system.

The lack of alternative forms of punishment has led to a large number of imprisonments for minor drug offences, he added.

“Among the detainees, more than 30 per cent were involved with drug crimes. It’s hard to draw a conclusion about whether more people are committing crimes or whether the authorities are being more effective than before,” he said. “There’s no clear-cut answer.”

Only about a third of those in prison had received a final verdict in their cases, with many kept under lock and key in pre-trial detention.

“It’s the way it’s done in the courts,” Savanea said. Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho, which runs a prison-monitoring project in the Kingdom, cautioned that placing more detainees in Cambodia’s already overcrowded prison system would have serious health implications for inmates.

He added that Licadho had found many prisoners suffer from respiratory problems, sleep disorders, food poisoning and ailments caused by poor sanitation.

“They lack fresh air, and if an epidemic breaks out, it spreads quickly and widely. Living in those stuffy cells leads to stress, which causes heart and blood pressure problems,” he said.

“The increase [in the number of inmates] is not a good sign. A country with the rule of law does not imprison many people.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a former prisoner who recently completed a 10-year stretch in one of the country’s most well-known jails said he was incarcerated in a cell with about 70 other prisoners.

“It was cramped and hard to live in. It was very hot, and we got itchy and spread it to one another,” he said.

Savanea admitted that the government would need to find more long-lasting solutions to criminal behaviour if it was to end its overcrowding problem.

“Our country’s resources are still limited. But we need to think of other measures we can take which are more economical and long-lasting,” he said.

He also called on communities to do more to prevent and report crimes.

MOST VIEWED

  • All inbound flights set to face added scrutiny

    Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said on Monday that the ministry is monitoring all inbound flights, after it was announced that only those from Malaysia and Indonesia will be temporarily cancelled from August 1. Vandine said on Monday that the two countries were identified as

  • Flights from Indonesia, Malaysia cancelled

    A Ministry of Health official has warned of the possibility of Covid-19 spreading through community transmission after the total infected cases in the Kingdom rose to 225. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told reporters on Saturday that the possibility of community transmission cannot be overlooked and that

  • Man in quarantine dies of ‘overdose’

    The Ministry of Health on Thursday said a Cambodian migrant worker who died while being isolated at a quarantine centre in Tbong Khmum province’s Kroch Chhmar district may have died from syncope or overdose of tablets. In a statement, the ministry said the 21-year-old

  • Ministry set to reopen 20 schools in August

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport will allow 20 high-safety-standards schools to reopen next month despite new cases of Covid-19 in the country. Ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha wrote in a Telegram message on Wednesday that the schools are in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang.