Following reports that five detainees died within a five-day period earlier this month at Kompong Cham Provincial Prison, the government’s prisons department yesterday offered no official reaction, saying information was lacking.
So far this year the human rights organization Adhoc has recorded 26 deaths in prisons nationwide while Licadho counted 29 deaths.
Despite widespread illness and massive overcrowding in prisons, the health system in correctional facilities is improving, said Heng Hak, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s general department of prisons.
“Generally, when prisoners are sick we check to treat them and send them to the hospital, Mr Hak said.
Mr Hak declined to give statistics on the number of deaths in prisons and said he had received no official information on the five reported deaths in Kompong Cham prison. On Wednesday, Mr Hak’s deputy, Kuy Bunsorn, denied that five deaths had occurred in quick succession at Kompong Cham jail and claimed that only six inmates had died nationwide in the first six months of the year. Mr Bunsorn declined to comment on prison deaths yesterday.
Chan Soveth, chief monitor at Adhoc, whose organization uncovered the five deaths, said that prison authorities were covering up the number of prisoners dying from illness in the prison system to prevent public criticism.
“The death of inmates in prisons is becoming a culture,” Mr Soveth said, noting that the problem should be publicly addressed to save lives.
Responsibility for overcrowding did not just lie with the prison authorities but also the courts, he said, adding that those guilty of minor offences should not be imprisoned but given community sentences to cut down on numbers.
Chheng Sophors, senior monitor at Licadho, said poor conditions put inmates at risk of disease and that prison authorities were slow in sending patients to hospital.
“In overcrowded situations it is easy for contagious diseases like diarrhea to spread,” Mr Sophors said.
Mr Hak agreed that illnesses including respiratory diseases, diarrhea and high blood pressure were common and partly due to conditions of detention.
“The prison is not like the open area. They have lost their freedom,” he said, noting that inmates suffering contagious diseases were quarantined.
There are currently more than 800 prisoners at Kompong Cham provincial prison, which has a maximum capacity of just 500.