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Pursat Provincial Prison Ranks Swelling

The number of prisoners in Pursat provincial prison has increased to a concerning amount, officials said, claiming inmates crammed in their cells could suffer from illness, or even break out to run away.

Ngourn Lay, chief of Pursat prison, said Tuesday the number of prisoners increased in November, from 180 in October to 223 now. Of the 223, nine are women, he said. Prior to the increase, one six-square-meter cell would hold four to five inmates, he said, but now, most of the prisons 28 cells hold eight.

“I already reported this situation to the Pursat provincial court and the provincial administration,” he said. “Because I’m worried that prisoners will break out of the prison, because there are many prisoners, and overcrowding could harm the health of inmates.”

Most of the inmates have been charged with deforestation, theft or involvement in community gangs, he said.

In 2005, five inmates fled from Pursat prison after severing the bars on a window. Only two were re-arrested, Ngourn Lay said.

Eng Chhunhan, Pursat coordinator for the rights group Licadho, said the numbers were some of the highest for the prison. When he began work in 2003, the prison held only 90 inmates, he said.

Some inmates had told him the increase made sleeping difficult, a violation of individual rights.

“For example, if people living outside the prison eat until they are full, a prison must be able to eat his fill too,” he said. “If people living outside the prison have a mosquito net for sleeping, prisoners must be given a mosquito net too.”

The national director for Cambodia’s 21 prisons, Lt. Gen. Heng Hak, said Tuesday the Ministry of Interior has a plan to build a new prison in the province that will hold up to 2,000 inmates.

“Now we are finding the location,” he said.