Ground was officially broken yesterday on a new facility at Prey Sar prison that will soon enable the upper crust of the Kingdom’s underworld to buy their way out of overcrowded jails and into the relative luxury of a privately run institution.
Announced last year, the new facility was billed at the time by Interior Minister Sar Kheng as a “hotel or detention centre”, and would provide better lodging to inmates who could afford to pay for the upgrade while at the same time generating revenue for the state.
Chinese firm Kunn Rekon Holdings Company is developing the $4 million project and will operate the new prison, said Pao Ham Phan, a secretary of state at the ministry who inaugurated the project yesterday.
Prisons department spokesman Nuth Savna confirmed yesterday that the new facilities would be available to inmates who could pay for them, with the first phase of the project expected to be completed in mid-2018.
The 45-year build-operate-transfer agreement will see the state and Kunn Rekon sharing the revenues.
“The one who can afford to pay to stay there we will allow to stay there. There will be 400 people for the first phase,” he said. “The price is up to the company how much they want to charge.”
While he at first said the facilities would be no different from other prisons, Savna did acknowledge that the new prison would have bigger rooms and space for exercise and worship, but insisted that no activities that bend the law would be allowed.
“Everything is implemented within the government’s policy, and do not think that there will be massage services or other things,” he added.
Yao Chen Ming, deputy director of the Kunn Rekon, said the aim of the new block was to ease overcrowding at the existing prisons. On completion, the buildings will be able to house 1,200 inmates, including 180 inmates for drug rehabilitation.
He added that his firm was primarily into property development and this was their first project in Southeast Asia. Overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons is indeed at epidemic levels. In February, a prisons official said Prey Sar alone was holding 5,000 inmates, despite being designed for 1,200.
A 2015 report by rights group Licadho found that prison life across 18 centres in Cambodia was dictated by cash flow, with wealthy inmates routinely paying for better cells, alcohol and prostitutes, as well as purported “VIP cells” for well-connected prisoners.
Boeung Kak activist Chan Puthisak, who was jailed during the violent crackdown of protests at Veng Sreng Boulevard, said Prey Sar already afforded the rich and business tycoons special treatment, with poorer inmates having to fend for basics like food.
“This is like immunity because this encourages the offenders to continue to commit crimes, because when they commit crimes there is no punishment for them because they live happily and spend money freely in prison,” he said.
Duch Piseth, advocacy officer at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said designating spaces within prisons as a “good space or bad space” inherently infringed on the rights and freedoms of all inmates, who should theoretically be treated equally.