The number of Cambodians in prisons across the country surpassed 15,000 in the last year, a major bump in a system that is nearly twice its capacity, a leading rights group reported Friday.
An inmate in many of the country’s prisons typically gets about one square meter of space, in facilities that are “bursting at the seams,” Licadho reported, and where people have to take turns sleeping in overcrowded cells.
The addition of 1,700 prisoners to the system over the last year marked a 12 percent increase overall, the group said in a report.
“Today, the prison occupancy stands at 179 percent,” the report said. “And that’s a conservative figure, given increasing evidence that some capacity figures are grossly inflated.”
Imprisonment is often imposed for a crime, “from stealing a chicken to murder,” Licadho said. At least 12 prisons are at or near double capacity, the report said.
Pung Chhiv Kek, Licadho’s founder, said Cambodian prisons are far below the international standard. In Europe, each prisoner has a four-meter-square cell. In Cambodia’s prisons, that space is as low as .8 square meters, she said.
Kuy Bun Sorn, head of the Ministry of Interior’s prison department, said he recognized the problem, but he said the overcrowding was due to the stronger enforcement of laws. Prisons are being expanded “continuously,” he said, “but the construction is not balanced with the strengthening of law.”
The International Center for Prison Studies rates Cambodia’s prisons as one of top 25 most overcrowded.
However, some work is under way to improve conditions. The Australian government provides some funding to improve prisons, including the fencing of outdoor areas to allow inmates more space and time outside.
In Prey Veng province, a construction project for three large buildings is under way, Kuy Bun Sorn said, but even that won’t be enough for the expected increase of prisoners.