Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sky-high prisoner numbers a concern

Sky-high prisoner numbers a concern

Sky-high prisoner numbers a concern

CAMBODIA’S prisons could be the most overcrowded in the world inside a decade without broad-based reform of the Kingdom’s criminal justice system, according to a new report from rights group Licadho.

The report, scheduled for release today, says that even substantial increases in capacity over the next few years will do little to stop the overcrowding that plagues penitentiaries.

“It really needs to be a systematic approach,” said Licadho consultant Jeff Vize. “It’s more of a criminal justice issue that the prisons alone can’t handle.”

Heng Hak, director general at the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, declined to comment at length on the report.

He said, though, that his office was working on a “master plan” for penal reform that he said would be finalised and submitted to ministry officials at a still-undetermined date.

The department hopes to address the overcrowding issue in part through the construction of Pursat province’s Correctional Centre 4, which government officials say will eventually house 2,500 prisoners. CC4 opened in January and housed 154 prisoners as of last month, Licadho said.

Even with the construction of a new CC4-sized prison every year, however, the Kingdom will be unable to properly accommodate its prisoner population if inmate growth levels continue apace. If the prison system adds 400 beds per year over the next decade, which Licadho says is “roughly the current growth rate”, the prison system will be at 165 percent of capacity in 2019, assuming 5 percent annual growth in the inmate population.

This estimate, Licadho says, is conservative. If the average annual growth rate of the past five years, 14 percent, continues, Cambodia could add 400 beds per year and still end up with the most overcrowded prison system in the world by 2018, the report says.

Bjorn Rahm, head of office for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Cambodia, said that his organisation was working with the government on an assessment of prisoner population growth .

“It is likely that there will not be one solution to the problem, but a combination of different actions that could or should be taken,” Rahm said.

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