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Drug offenders crowding prisons

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
A police officer documents people being arrested after a drug raid in the capital. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The General Prison Department has accounted for more than 30,000 inmates across the Kingdom last year, 55 percent of whom were in prison due to drugs charges.

GPD director-general General Chan Kimseng on Monday issued the department’s annual report and said afterwards that a total of 31,686 people were detained in prisons, including 1,262 foreigners, last year.

“Among more than 30,000 detainees, nearly 3,000 were women,” he said. “There were more than 3,000 juveniles, 50 pregnant inmates and more than 1,000 detainees living with HIV.”

“Most detainees, or 55.37 percent, were in prison for drugs,” he added.

Gen Kimseng noted 135 female inmates were living with their children in prison.

A report in February from the department showed that the prison population had ballooned by some 30 percent in 2017 to 28,414, with more than 10,000 of the system’s inmates locked up in pre-trial detention.

Kin Phea, director-general of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, yesterday said the spike in the prison population can be attributed to the government’s anti-drug campaign which began a couple years ago.

Mr Phea said authorities should crack down more on high-level offenders, rather than drug users, in order to provide relief to overcrowded prisons.

“Why are there so many drug crimes?” he said. “When there are so many cases, it means that drug offenders have also increased.”

“They need to crack down on bigger cases,” he added.

GPD spokesman Lieutenant General Nuth Savna concurred with Mr Phea’s statement, but added that many suspected offenders are also awaiting trial.

The majority of inmates are behind bars over drug crimes. KT/Chor Sokunthea

“Among 17,000 detainees charged over drugs, only 30 percent of them were sentenced,” Lt Gen Savna said, noting that the other 70 remained in pre-trial detention.

He added that the government’s anti-drug campaign caused prison overcrowding.

Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combatting Drugs, yesterday said that police are trying to arrest more high-level offenders.

He said the NACD is also educating people on the consequences of drugs, adding there are more than 20,000 addicts in need of treatment.

“If those addicts do not receive treatment, then they remain as customers for traffickers,” he said.

According to a recent Interior Ministry report, authorities last year cracked down on 8,002 drug cases, arresting 16,216 drug offenders and seizing more than half a tonne of drugs.

It said NACD cracked down on 74 major cases, resulting in the arrest of 83 people, including 19 high-level criminals.

At a graduation ceremony on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to review cases in order to reduce the number of prison inmates.

Mr Hun Sen said delegates from the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Women’s Affairs Ministry and his own legal team inspected a number of prisons across the Kingdom.

“Why are our prisons overcrowded?…Only one third have been convicted, the rest are accused,” he said. “For this, all courts and the Justice Minister must work quickly to resolve them.”

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