Hopes That Better Educated Prison Officers Will End Jail Abuses

Prison officers must have obtained at least a high school diploma and are encouraged to have a bachelor degree, according to a Royal Decree aimed at improving standards in the prison system and curbing a culture of endemic abuse and corruption.

According to the decree, which was signed on August 7 by King Norodom Sihamoni, prison guards and other officials must not use their positions for personal gain, must take an examination before getting hired and must be older than 25 years of age. 

“Prison officials are absolutely banned from: using work hours to conduct their own businesses; using their position and power for self-interest or to threaten and abuse any citizens or convicts,” the decree states.

While it states that new prison guards will be required to take an examination, it does not offer details regarding the exam or how to tackle the common practice of applicants simply paying money to obtain a government position.

Asked about the new educational requirements, Srun Leang, head of Prey Sar prison’s Cor­rectional Center 1, declined to comment, though he said: “At the lowest level, prison officials make about $75 a month.”

Hin Sophal, Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison director, said that, at his prison at least, most prison officers acted professionally, but he welcomed the tougher entry requirements.

“I think the statute is a good thing…. In my prison, where I’ve been since 2011, nothing [illegal] has ever occurred,” he claimed.

Officials in the country’s notorious prison system have long been accused by human rights groups of everything from in­competence to torture.

In 2010, former Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison chief Nuon Vanna was arrested and fired after allegedly accepting a bribe to let a prisoner escape. His predecessor lasted in the job barely seven months before being removed after several inmates tested positive for narcotics.

Human Rights Watch and Licadho, a local rights group, have both cited widespread use of torture on prisoners in the country’s jails.

Am Sam Ath, Licadho’s technical supervisor, said yesterday that while he welcomed better educated officials, holding those who abuse their positions to account remains the most important issue.

“If any crimes happen, they should investigate properly and punish them based on the law,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, echoed Mr. Sam Ath’s concerns that implementation of the law, not higher educational credentials, was the most important thing in terms of stopping the culture of corruption and abuse in prisons.

Higher wages for prison officers is necessary for the new statute to mean anything, Mr. Tola said.

“Why doesn’t the government provide a higher salary for officials, who may have no choice but to engage in bribery?” Mr. Tola asked, noting that if relatives of detainees want to visit, they often have to pay guards up to $10 in bribes for the privilege.

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