The number of inmates at Pursat provincial prison has almost doubled in the past year, leading to the overcrowding of cells and stretching guards thin, officials and a human rights group said Wednesday.
The prison’s 28 cells now host a total of 225 inmates, nine of them women, up from only 130 inmates last year, the prison’s deputy director Keo Oek said.
The cells, which were built more than 20 years ago and were designed for between three and four prisoners, are now housing seven or eight inmates, Keo Oek said.
“[The overcrowding] makes our 30 prison guards very concerned that the prisoners will break out of the prison because there are many prisoners,” he said, adding that there was also a health concerns arising from so many people packed together.
Inmates at the prison are reporting problems, such as lack of sleep because of stuffiness in the overcrowded 9-square-meter cells, said Eng Chhunhan, provincial coordinator for local human rights group Licadho.
Eng Chhunhan said Licadho conducts monthly health checks on the prisoners and that when he started working with the prison in 2003 there were only 70 to 90 inmates.
The main reason for the increase in the prison population is because of people being jailed in pretrial detention, he added.
To alleviate the overcrowding, prisoners are being rotated out of the cells to “air them out,” and cells are being rearranged so that some prisoners sleep on the floor, and some sleep above the floor.
Sun Vuthy, the former director of the Pursat prison, said Wednesday that another solution would be to release on bail some of the people who are imprisoned awaiting trial.
Pursat Provincial Court Chief Prosecutor Tob Chansereyvuth said he was aware of the problems of overcrowding at the prison, but court cases could not be rushed or pre-trial detention cut.
The court needs time to investigate, he said.
“I received this report from the prison chief about the overcrowding of inmates. Now we are planning to build some wooden cells… where we can keep the inmates, between 20 to 30 people, to sleep in,” he said.