Detainees at Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison have joined forces with prison officials to pay for the construction of the first Buddhist worship hall in a Cambodian penitentiary.
The 800 inmates contributed a minimum of 500 riel each to help construct the worshipping facility fitted out with Buddhist statues to allow them to seek peace and enhance their opportunity for rehabilitation, prison director Hin Sophal said yesterday.
“Prison is the rehabilitation center for the prisoner. Only mental education through listening to the dharma can help the prisoners to be patient and contemplate their mistakes, so we decided to build a worship hall so we could invite the monks to preach to the prisoners,” he said.
“The money that was used to construct the hall came from the prisoners and the prison officials.”
Sophal has had monks visit the prison for more than two years to preach the dharma and teach the prisoners about discipline in order for them to psychologically mature and to attempt to make peace with the crimes they have committed.
“Most of the prisoners understand the mistakes they have made and like listening to the dharma, so the hall will make it easier for the monks to visit and help the prisoners,” he said.
Sharon Critoph, a prison consultant for rights group Licadho, supported the notion of religious practice in the prison as long as it is readily available to all prisoners.
“We welcome all measures which allow prisoners to exercise their right to freedom of religion but urge that the right to worship is not restricted to privileged groups of prisoners alone,” she said.
“Measures should be put in place to ensure everyone has the opportunity to worship, this should include pre-trial detainees.”
Chhum Vannrith, deputy provincial governor of Banteay Meanchey, said the presence of the monks will help the prisoners “to become new and better people when they enter society after completing their punishment”.