Criminals imprisoned for serious crimes such as robbery and drug smuggling, as well as repeat offenders, will no longer be considered as candidates for royal pardons, a spokesman for the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday after a meeting of judicial officials.
After a spike in serious crime in recent months, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana called a conference of the nation’s prosecutors and its prison chiefs at the ministry in Phnom Penh and told them that pardons will have to be more selective, said the spokesman, Chin Malin.
“Starting from now, we will not be considering pardons for big crimes, but if they correct [their behavior] we will consider reducing their punishment,” Mr. Malin said, listing both “big robberies” and “big drug-related crimes” as examples of unpardonable crimes.
“The reason is because we think they affect society. They are big crimes, and not small crimes.”
Mr. Malin added that in order to reduce the illicit practice of purchasing pardons, the ministry was planning to develop mechanisms to fairly decide which prisoners have “corrected” themselves and deserve pardons or reduced terms.
“In the past, there were irregularities and corruption, and we also received this information,” Mr. Malin said. “If we see irregularities or corruption in the prisons, we must take measures following the law for the officials.”
Be Tealeng, director of the operations department in the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said after the meeting that 17,986 people are now in Cambodian prisons, a figure far higher than their combined capacity of 12,000.
“It’s so crowded, such as: Prey Sar’s correctional centers 1 and 2, correctional center 3 in Tbong Khmum province, Strung Treng Provincial Prison, Kratie Provincial Prison, Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prison and Kompong Speu Provincial Prison,” he said.
“These prisons are so crowded and old because they remain from the French colonial regime, while some prisons were constructed in 1979,” upon the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Mr. Tealeng explained.
“We recognize that one room can only detain eight prisoners but it has now increased to 28 to 30 prisoners being detained [in a room] so this is a problem that we discussed in the meeting,” he added.
“We do not have any plans to construct new prisons, but we will renovate the old prisons.”