Officials say a seven-percent increase in 2008 has pushed current capacity to the limit, but promise prison reforms.
A guard monitors the entry road to Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison.
THE Kingdom's prison population has increased in the last year, causing authorities to strengthen prison security, officials said Tuesday.
Heng Hak, director of the Ministry of Interior's Prison Department, said that the number of prisoners increased by seven percent over 2008.
"This year there are 11,688 prisoners, an increase of 786 compared to 10,902 prisoners at the start of last year," he said, adding that authorities were "worried" by the increase.
"We're afraid some prisoners will attempt to escape, and it's extremely difficult for us to control them," he said. "We have to take strict measures to ensure their security."
According to an annual report released by the ministry Thursday, 22 prisoners, two of them women, escaped from prison facilities in 2008. Of these, three were re-arrested and detained.
"While the number of prisoners has increased, we are renovating old buildings and will establish another prison facility in Pursat province," he said.
Now we are allowing them to come out of their cells in the morning.
He added that to resolve problems of overcrowding, the department had transferred prisoners between facilities and had written a proposal to the Ministry of Economy and Finance requesting an increase in funding per prisoner from 1,500 to 2,800 riels (US$0.36 to $0.67) per day.
"It is difficult to account for the increase," he said. "But according to our research and the outcomes of the Asia Pacific Conference [of Correctional Administrators], most developing countries have also experienced rising numbers."
Chheav Hourlay, a prison researcher for local rights group Licadho, said that the increasing numbers will impact prisoner health and, in particular, disease transmission.
"Now, the biggest problem for prisoners is food," he said.
"They are allocated only 1,500 riels per day, which is inadequate with respect to market prices."
Kuy Bun Sorn, deputy director of the Prison Department, said that prisons had also "altered their sleeping arrangements" due to overcrowding, and that each 1.6 metre by 0.8 metre cell, which once held four people, was now accommodating eight.
"The main health problems facing prisoners are skin and gastrointestinal illness, and vitamin deficiency due to inadequate food," he said.
"Now, we are allowing them to come out of their cells in the morning to exercise and to grow crops and vegetables.
Heng Hak added that authorities have also increased guard-to-prisoner ratios, for both security and humanitarian reasons, as well as taking more action to reform the local prison system.
"We are also taking measures to educate guards about prisoner health, enhancing their professional and interpersonal skills, and reforming the prison industry," he said.