Eighty-four inmates died nationwide in 2010 as the population inside the country’s already overcrowded prison system swelled to more than 14,000, a prison department official said.
Liv Mauv, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons, said that the number of prison deaths was the highest recorded since the prison department started keeping statistics in 2007.
The prison department recorded 35 deaths in 2007, 59 deaths in 2008 and 60 deaths in 2009. Since 2007, the nationwide prisoner population has risen from 10,900 to 14,050. Government officials said last year that the country’s 24 prisons had a combined maximum capacity of about 8,000 prisoners.
Kompong Cham Provincial Prison and Prey Sar’s Correctional Center 1 were the two worst hit prisons in 2010, recording 15 deaths and 10 deaths, respectively, Mr Mauv said.
“The people who died mostly had high blood pressure and strokes,” he said.
“Most of the prisoners have chronic diseases when they are sent to jail. When they are detained, their rights are limited, so they worry. Their worry causes high blood pressure and causes strokes to easily occur.”
He added that he believed there was a correlation between the rising number of prisoners being held and the number of deaths in custody.
“The number of prisoners has increased respectively from year to year, so the number of the prisoners who died also increases.”
Mr Mauv, however, denied that the rise in prison deaths was attributable to the severe overcrowding in the country’s prisons.
“The prisons are mostly big. They can contain thousand of prisoners,” he said. “The rise in deaths is not because of overcrowding.”
The human rights group Licadho actively monitors deaths in custody and found that 54 people died in 11 of the country’s 24 prisons in 2010.
Am Sam Ath, Licadho technical supervisor, said the main causes of death were high blood pressure, stroke and fever.
“The most people died in Kompong Cham Provincial Prison, and the deaths there were mainly caused by high blood pressure and strokes,” Mr Sam Ath said. “This is according to the information we got from the prison director and the government, but we have never been involved with the autopsies.”
According to death certificates issued by the Interior Ministry, five men between 22 and 56 years old died between July 7 and July 11 last year while serving time at the Kompong Cham prison. One of the deceased was awaiting trial at the time of his death.
Kompong Cham Provincial Prison Director Hou Puthvsal hung up on a reporter when contacted Monday.
Mr Sam Ath said that inadequate sanitation and the cramped quarters found inside most of Cambodia’s jails made it easy for diseases to spread quickly among inmates.
He added that prison officials were often slow in taking action to help those suffering illnesses.
“When the prisoners are sick, [sometimes] they keep them until it is too late for them to be cured,” he said.
Mr Mauv, however, said the number of deaths in custody was not shocking and said the government was working with the Health Ministry to ensure that prisoners receive more medical support.
“I think it is not too bad since the number of prisoners in prison increases,” he said, adding that prisoners with tuberculosis at Pursat Provincial Prison would soon be held in a separate building to prevent the disease from spreading.