Books Now Available to All of Cambodia’s Prison Population

All of Cambodia’s roughly 15,000 prison inmates now have access to books thanks to an initiative to bring libraries to the country’s jails that was first launched three years ago, officials said Wednesday.

However, Kuy Bunsoer, the director of the Interior Ministry’s prisons department, said that although all of the country’s penitentiaries contain some kind of library facility, only a fraction of inmates have access to literature that could advance their lives on the outside.

“There are 15,000 prisoners in the country and all have access to books but our work is not done yet because only 2,500 to 3,000 of those are reading information that could, for example, educate them in agriculture,” he said.

Mr. Bunsoer was speaking at a seminar in Phnom Penh to release the results of the Libraries in Prisons project, run by pro-literacy NGO Sipar. The NGO put $360,000 into the scheme and distributed more than 46,000 books, he said.

Sipar director Sothik Hok said the next phase of the project would target the quality of library services.

“We have created one library in each prison, now we hope to improve the quality of services in the libraries, [and introduce] more educational activities in libraries and more activities that will correspond with their needs,” he said.

Mr. Hok said the NGO hopes to introduce literary lessons to educate the high number of illiterate inmates. He said it was difficult to measure the effect the libraries were having on inmates after their release, but the opportunity for prisoners to spend time in the library was proving productive inside jails.

“Reading books cannot necessarily stop prisoners committing crimes again, but it can reduce violence among prisoners and guards because relationships in a small cell are not always smooth so it gives a release,” he said.

Khat Yang, deputy director of the Kompong Chhnang provincial prison, questioned how many of the 487 inmates in his facility are making full use of the library.

“Some prisoners read when we look over them but they just look at the pictures, they rarely read into the meaning of the book,” he said.

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