Licadho yesterday published a report on the Kingdom’s growing prison population and called for the country’s judicial system to grant bail for those who are suspected of committing non-violent crimes as a solution to decrease overcrowding.
In its report entitled “Time for Bail: Ending Needless Mass Detention in Cambodia”, the rights group said the general prison population has risen to unprecedented levels and acute overcrowding has become a major problem for inmates and prison staffers.
The report noted that in 18 prisons monitored by the rights group, more than a third of prisoners, or 9,527 out of 25,926 detainees, were in jail awaiting trial. In some prisons, nearly half of inmates have yet to face trial.
The rights group noted that a person accused of a crime can be jailed without trial for up to 22 months and that overcrowding affects vulnerable groups, including infants with incarcerated mothers or babies born to pregnant detainees.
There are about 135 mothers with 138 children under the age of three in prisons monitored by Licadho, along with 30 pregnant women. About half of those women have yet to be convicted, it noted.
“Families are being plunged into poverty and children’s lives are put at risk because of this engrained disregard for bail provisions by Cambodian courts,” said Licadho director Naly Pilorge. “Apart from in exceptional cases, bail is supposed to be a right – not a privilege.”
“But in Cambodia, people accused of crimes are often treated as if they’re guilty until proven innocent,” Ms Pilorge said. “Justice is not being served, but it could be if the law was followed.”
The report noted that effective use of bail for non-violent criminals would benefit the Kingdom’s criminal justice system by reducing prison overcrowding, keeping families together and preventing harm from being inflicted on infants growing up behind bars.
Sorn Keo, spokesman for the General Department of Prisons, said overcrowding in prisons affected not only inmates, but also prison staff.
“It is a problem and our officials are currently facing difficulties to be in charge of the matter,” Mr Keo said. “But I do not think offering bail to inmates is useful. The judge makes the decision on who should be given bail.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the rise of the prison population is a concern. However, he said that bail should not just be given to any inmate.
“I would like to stress that detention [depends] on the crime, which the court decides. Judges believe that the accused might cause serious problems if they were on bail,” Mr Malin said. “The rise mainly resulted from action taken by police to crack down on drug dealers and users.”
Last week, the Senate asked the Interior Ministry to build more prisons in order to reduce overcrowding in jails.
The prison population in the country increased by nearly 30 percent in 2017 when compared to 2016, an annual report released in February by the General Department of Prisons showed.