The government has decided to cancel plans to use a newly-built private correctional facility in Phnom Penh to house wealthy inmates who can afford to pay for a more comfortable accommodation.
Lieutenant General Nouth Savna, Interior Ministry General Department of Prison spokesman, yesterday said that Interior Minister Sar Kheng made the decision earlier this month and noted the new facility will now be used as a state-controlled prison instead.
He said the new facility, built on a 1.5 hectare plot of land near Prey Sar prison, will be used to house prisoners from PJ prison which is overcrowded.
“It is no longer a pay-to-stay facility and [we] will move PJ prison inmates to the new correctional centre,” Lt Gen Savna said.
The facility was built at a cost of $4 million by Malaysian company Kunn Rekon Holding, which was given a 45-year contract to run it to house wealthy prisoners with the government taking care of security and choosing which inmates will be detained in it.
Construction began in May 2017 in a bid to reduce severe overcrowding in the Kingdom’s prisons and is now complete.
PJ prison is inside the compound of the Phnom Penh Municipal Commissariat headquarters and holds 400 prisoners although it was built to house 300 inmates at max.
“Because it is overcrowded, the environment is not healthy and the government wants to transfer some of them to the new facility,” Lt Gen Savna said. “The government also feels that it is better to have the state to run the facility instead of a private firm for security reasons.”
He noted that the pay-for stay plan faced public criticism over having double standards for rich and poor prisoners.
“After deep consideration, the country’s top leaders decided that the new facility involves public security and should be controlled by the state,” Lt Gen Savna said, adding that he did not have any information on negotiations with Kunn Rekon Holding over the cancellation of the deal.
He noted that the new modern facility is designed to accommodate about 400 prisoners, but after cancelling the luxury prison concept, authorities can take out some of the refurbishments in order to house 800 to 1,000 inmates.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager of rights group Licadho, yesterday said that he supports the move to scrap the VIP prison project, noting that Cambodia is not ready for such a concept and there are negative and positive issues to be studied first.
“The positive side is it can reduce overcrowding but there are lots of negative issues such as discrimination of prisoners who are serving sentences for the same crimes,” he said. “The rich can stay in VIP facilities while the poor are forced to live in overcrowded prisons.”
Mr Sam Ath noted that the government had made the correct decision, especially since there are no VIP prisons in Asia.
Major General Chhim Thida, PJ prison director, yesterday said he wasn’t aware of any move to transfer prisoners, but acknowledged that the prison is overcrowded.
Kunn Rekon Holding could not be reached for comment.