Prison Population Numbers Show Steep Rise

Cambodia’s prison population has skyrocketed in recent years due to longer prison sentences, more prison facilities and the country’s weak judiciary, critics say.

The prison population, which has increased approximately 30 percent each year since 1996, now stands at 5,168—a marked increase from the 1,801 inmates incarcerated six years ago, accord­ing to prison statistics from the human rights groups Licadho.

According to statistics, the number of both individuals convicted of crimes and those awaiting trial increased steadily across the country.

Although critics and government officials could not say definitively what caused the growing number of prisoners, several pointed to the construction of the Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap provincial prison as a cause for the rise.

“When you build new prisons, they tend to fill up—you can see this all over the world,” said one international observer who has worked with Cambodia’s prisons. “The capacity of the prisons [in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap] grew when the new prisons were built.”

The Sokimex petroleum company agreed to build the $2 million Prey Sar prison in 1999 in order to replace the 100-year-old T-3 prison formerly located near Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal. In exchange for building the prison, Sokimex received the land which T-3 sat on—land estimated at the time to be worth between $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

In 1999, T-3 prison held an estimated 497 prisoners. One year later, the new Prey Sar prison had a prison population of more than 1,280 prisoners, according to the Licadho statistics.

Siem Reap province experienced a similar trend. Sokimex, which built the $1.2 million prison there under a similar land-exchange deal, opened the new Siem Reap prison in January 2000. The old prison, located near the Angkor Wat complex, had a population of 257, according to the Licadho statistics. However, after Sokimex built the new prison several kilometers outside the town center, the population grew to 333.

Sokimex head Sok Kong said in early July that the construction of the prisons had no relation to the increase in the prison population, saying “now people make more mistakes and the police catch more criminals.”

Minister of Interior Secretary of State Prum Sokha said previously that he was very concerned about the increasing prison population and attributed the growth to the November 2001 law allowing authorities to hold suspects from 48 hours to 72 hours and a slow court process.

“The government should pay more attention to the prisons and encourage rehabilitation and development of the prisons,” Prum Sokha said.

One international observer added on Thursday that longer prison sentences for individuals convicted of killings and robberies—criminals who make up the majority of people being detained in prisons across the country—could also be a factor in the steadily increasing prison population.

One prison expert with Licadho said on Thursday that the government still does not respect or observe proper law enforcement. And cases like the detention of more than 100 people convicted of membership in the Cambodian Freedom Fighters greatly increases the population in Cambodia’s prisons.

The weak judiciary and law enforcement procedures also contribute to the rise, the official said.

“The courts here continue to have a problem—the trial process is very slow and the arrest procedures are not correct and often slow,” the official said. “Often times, suspects will remain in prison past the six month pre-trial detention time, and sometimes the process does not include all three branches of government—the legislative, executive [police] and courts.”


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