I write in response to the article published in The Phnom Penh Post in July entitled “Community service planned”, which revealed the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) intention to alleviate the pressure on Cambodia’s overcrowded prisons by encouraging community service for minor offences as an alternative to imprisonment.
I wish to extend my praise to the RGC for its plan and hope that the RGC will consolidate its stated intention by allocating all resources necessary to make alternative sentencing practicable.
A study of trials conducted by The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) at the first instance courts of Phnom Penh and Kandal revealed that between July and December in 2010, of the 1,029 accused whose trials were monitored, 633, or 61 percent, were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment. The disproportionate rate of incarceration represented in this data correlates with the overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons and is symptomatic of the justice system’s continued myopia in favouring incarceration over other non-custodial sentences which are readily available under the 2009 Penal Code.
The 2009 Penal Code provides judges with alternative sentencing options for offenders convicted of an offence and sentenced to a prison term of 3 years or less. Under the Penal Code judges can substitute the sentence for community work or a public reprimand, suspend a sentence or deliver a probationary suspended sentence. All of these options are available to the courts and if utilised, where appropriate, could greatly reduce the overcrowding in Cambodia’s prisons.
The prison population could be further reduced by upholding the presumption against pre-trial detention – which is enshrined in both Cambodia’s Code of Criminal Procedure and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. CCHR’s study revealed that between July and December in 2010, 660, or 64 percent, of the 1,029 accused whose trials were monitored were held in pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detention should be the exception, not the rule. If the presumption against pre-trial detention is upheld, prison overcrowding in Cambodia will be greatly reduced.
I strongly support the utilisation of all the sentencing options provided in the Penal Code as alternatives to incarceration. To ensure such measures are viable and effective, the RGC must provide adequate resources to courts, police and social service providers and those institutions must establish clear processes and procedures for monitoring adherence to non-custodial sentences.
Non-custodial sentences, where appropriate, provide a win-win solution to Cambodia’s prison overcrowding; more effective responses to petty criminal offending and a lower prison population.
Monika Mang (Senior Trial Monitor), The Cambodian Center for Human Rights
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The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.