Cambodia’s First Prison Library to Open in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar

Interior Ministry officials said yesterday that Cambodia’s first prison library would open by the end of this month within the walls of Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison.

The library, which was constructed between August and November, received its first books on Tuesday as the pro-literacy NGO Sipar delivered 4,000 volumes covering topics as diverse as agriculture, history and law. The idea behind the library is that everyone should be encouraged to read, regardless of his or her mistakes or ill luck, said Sipar Read­ing Development Coordinator Chho­eung Chhenghak.

“We want to promote the reading of books and say that everyone, even prisoners, have the right to read,” said Mr Chhenghak.

The 9-by-17-meter building cost Sipar $30,000 to build, according to Mr Chhenghak, who pointed out that further education might be inspirational for convicts looking for ways to change the behaviors that landed them in jail.

“We can help them to understand the law, to gain knowledge, and po­tentially to learn new behavior,” said Mr Chhenghak, adding that his or­ganization was training inmates as librarians and will consider building prison libraries nationwide if reading caught on at Prey Sar.

Heng Hak, director general of the General Department of Prisons, said yesterday that he supported the program and hoped prisoners would take advantage of their new resource.

“It is one thing, education and rehabilitation,” said Mr Hak. “When they read a lot, they will have the knowledge needed to change themselves.”

While many prisons do provide inmates access to books, most prisons have small collections, according to Mr Hak, who said he hoped to find donors willing to support the construction of more libraries.

Srung Leang, deputy director of Correctional Center 1 at Prey Sar prison, said yesterday he planned to encourage prisoners to visit the library and broaden their minds.

“We will push them toward reading,” said Mr Leang, adding that he thought spending time in the new library would help inmates stave off the boredom of imprisonment.

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