In a bid to address prison overcrowding, rights group Licadho yesterday issued a statement urging the Justice and Women’s Affairs Ministries to swiftly wrap up the cases of women who are currently in pre-trial detention.
In November, Interior Minister Sar Kheng noted that the country’s 28 prisons are overcrowded with 31,008 inmates, 71.9 percent of whom were in pre-trial detention.
Licadho’s statement echoed that of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has called for action in addressing the needs of women in prison and reducing overcrowding.
Licadho hoped that all pregnant women and mothers who are in pre-trial detention with their children be either granted bail or have their trials concluded before Khmer New Year.
“This issue should be resolved through the use of existing legal measures, such as prioritising women who are in pre-trial detention and expediting the processing of bail applications,” it said in a statement.
It added that the measures were listed in its October report titled “Time for Bail: Ending Needless Mass Detention”, which highlighted the plight of children and their mothers in prisons.
“These children and their mothers face multiple challenges, such as limited food, water, clothing and hygiene materials,” the report said. “These problems are made worse due to the use of excessive pre-trial detention and the underutilisation of existing legal proceedings, such as bail applications.”
Licadho noted that giving bail to non-violent suspects would benefit the Kingdom’s criminal justice system by reducing overcrowding, preventing harm to minors who grow up behind bars, and allowing families to be together.
It said that currently, there are 113 children and 38 pregnant women in 18 of its monitored prisons.
Licadho recommends that prosecutors publish guidelines on how legal and judicial authorities should handle cases involving mothers and pregnant women to ensure that they stay out of prison in the future.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said officials are now gathering information in order to distinguish which women are serving their sentences from those who are in pre-trial detention and cannot be granted bail.
“Our officials work on case-by-case basis since those women detainees engage in different court procedures,” Mr Malin said. “Under humanitarian principles, we have requested judges to speed up cases involving women, and offer them bail if the offence is not serious.”
Sor Sineth, deputy chief of the Women’s Affairs Ministry’s legal department, yesterday said a total of five working groups were deployed to survey female inmates in 28 prisons across the Kingdom.
“Our officials have interviewed all female detainees and are expected to draft a conclusion on various cases by next week,” Ms Sineth said. “We are now working hard on this issue, we hope to address the Kingdom’s overcrowding prisons.”
Last month, Mr Hun Sen assigned his team of lawyers to help impoverished female prisoners who were placed in pre-trial detention without legal representation.
Government lawyer Ky Tech yesterday said the legal team has been cooperating with ministries in order to provide representation to the women.
“It takes some time for our lawyers to study court cases and check whether the suspect has the possibility to be defended and then request for a pardon, or have their sentence reduced,” Mr Tech said. “We have begun our task and are hoping we will solve this problem as soon as possible.”