The justice ministry is planning to introduce community service to replace mandatory detention in the hope that it will ease pressure on the country’s beleaguered prison system.
Chin Malin, a justice spokesman, said the scheme would be piloted in Battambang province before launching nationwide.
“When the project is put into practice, we will set up a legal framework and detailed policy and consider later what changes are needed for community service,” he said.
“We will then consider about skills, location, and forms of investigation. We will provide more detail before the implementation of the project,” he added.
According to the Department of Prisons, more than 26,000 people are incarcerated in Cambodia’s 29 jails.
Malin said community service would benefit society and also reduce the burden on the prison system.
“It’s a good opportunity for prisoners to correct their wrongdoing. Also, they can use their skills and talents to serve the society and community, rather than doing nothing,” he said.
“But it does not mean they will be freed. They will be under strict supervision.”
He added that community service has long been legislated in Cambodia for sentences of less than three years, but has rarely been put into practice over fears convicts could face mob violence if reintroduced into the community.
As a result of these fears, the pilot project would include education of communities where the convicts are to carry out their work, he said.
Duch Piseth, advocacy director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the project was unlikely to be successful unless the courts did more to combat corruption.
“There need to be accountable figures who inspect and manage the prisoners doing community service,” he said. “The ministry should make efforts to explain to people in the community to understand about the project in order to stop people from being afraid of the prisoners.”