Twenty-one juvenile convicts made a daring and well-planned jail break from the Second Correctional Center at the Prey Sar prison compound in the early pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning.
Police caught 11 of them, according to the center’s director, Nong Kabora. The 10 still at large “ran out from the prison and broke off into many directions,” he said.
The correctional center, which officials claimed has become dilapidated, is situated next to the Prey Sar prison building.
Samkol Sokhan, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s prison department, said that one of the jailbreakers’ relatives had slipped him a saw blade while he was in the infirmary last week.
Once he was returned to his cell, he easily cut through a window’s two iron bars.
“It is our mistake. [The guards] had not checked him,” Samkol Sokhan said. “This is a lesson for the prison.”
He partially blamed a lack of funding, saying that the breakout was aided by a dead generator, which provided the cover of darkness.
A second, larger generator that is used during the day had been available. But Samkol Sokhan said it was left idle to save fuel.
“They used that chance to escape,” Samkol Sokhan said.
Neang Thai, a 35-year-old prison guard, said he was on duty in a watchtower Thursday morning when he heard the noises of escape below.
“I shot three times into the sky to alert the other guards,” he said. “If the prisoners had guns we would have killed them… We didn’t shoot them because we have studied about human rights.”
He said that he fired his gun at 2 am and it took nearly two hours to round up the 11 who didn’t get away. No one was injured, he added.
Neang Thai said that some of the prisoners hit the ground at the sound of gunshot, but the other 10 disappeared into nearby villages.
He also said that the prisoners had been working on their escape for some time. Instead of using the toilet in their cell, they had urinated on the window’s bars to hasten corrosion.
“It was easy for the prisoners to break the bars because the bars had become thinner,” Neang Thai said.
He said that the prisoners then used a homemade rope of sheets and clothes to clear the five-meter fence, topped with barbed wire, that surrounds the compound.
Nong Kabora did not allow a reporter to visit the abandoned cell or go near the prison compound.
Chan Soveth, a monitor for the local human rights group Adhoc, blamed the escape on prison authorities.
“There is a serious lack of management in the prison,” he said.
Chan Soveth said he visits the Prey Sar prison compound twice a month and the inmates are not watched closely.
Prisoners are allowed to grow their own vegetables to supplement their meals, but when they return from the garden, guards do not check to see if they are smuggling tools, such as spades, back to their cells, he said.
He also said that the government had not renovated the prison several years ago as it has claimed.
“It was only repainted,” Chan Soveth said.
And blackouts, due to generator problems, are frequent, he added.
Chan Soveth appealed to prison officials to not torture the would-be escapees. “The guards seriously beat the prisoners after they caught them,” he said.
According to prison guard Neang Thai, “We just beat them a little because we were angry.”
Photos of the escaped convicts have been disseminated to local authorities at various levels who will cooperate in the manhunt, Samkol Sokhan said.