Interior Ministry Sar Kheng has urged the Ministry of Justice to prioritise court cases where the accused are detained in a bid to reduce prison overcrowding.
“The issue is that the number of detainees will continue to increase. I trust in Justice Minister Keut Rith’s campaign to address prison congestion, but I wonder whether this campaign could relieve the prisoners inside the cells first,” he said.
“I am not clear on this. But sometimes, the campaign has worked to speed up cases where the accused are on bail and in doing so, does not help those in jails,” Kheng said.
Kheng was speaking at a handing over of duties ceremony from the Ministry of Interior’s Director-General of Prisons Chan Kimseng to his successor Chhem Savuth at the ministry yesterday.
He said he also reminded Rith during a previous meeting to speed up cases where the accused are detained, as it would be more useful.
Kheng said that as prison populations continue to rise, they will become increasingly difficult to manage which could run the risk of prison riots and breakouts.
He said hearing cases of those released on bail should not be prioritised until prison overcrowding is resolved.
“Those in prisons which are overcrowded should be prioritised,” Kheng said. “We don’t want to build more prisons because that just means we will take on more prisoners. Currently there are around 40,000 prisoners. If we build more, that could increase capacity to 50,000 or 60,000.”
“If we construct more jails, we can arrest more people. We cannot avoid arresting people because of overcrowding, as then we will face criticism for not abiding by the law,” he added.
Kheng also said that drug crime cases, especially trans-boundary drug trafficking, have caused the number of prisoners to increase sharply.
However, he said the ministry must continue with the anti-drugs campaign otherwise the scourge will continue to threaten Cambodia.
He said drug use is also spreading to rural areas and communities and urged officials to take action against drug use even if it is just small scale.
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin told Khmer Times yesterday that the aim of the case congestion campaign is to speed up the processing of criminal cases for both those in prison and those on bail.
“As we speed up case processing, it will also help relieve overcrowding in prisons. However, it must be in accordance with legal procedures,” he said.
The Ministry of Justice began a campaign to address case backlogs in the capital and provincial courts in May to address overcrowding in prisons and improve court capacity.