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

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • PM: Do not defile Tonle Sap swamp forest or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone – including government officials – involved with the deforestation of the flooded forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake because it is an area important to the spawning of many species of fish, among other reasons. Speaking in a