The Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons has announced a temporary suspension of inmate visitation rights in a bid to prevent a spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities.
GPD director-general General Chan Kimseng said yesterday that earlier this week all 28 prisons across the Kingdom had been ordered to strictly follow infection prevention measures against COVID-19.
“I have ordered all prison chiefs across the country to temporarily bar families and relatives who wish to visits the inmates. If [visits are] necessary, visitors must obtain medical certificates and have their temperature checked in order to enter the prison’s buildings,” he said.
Gen Kimseng said the department also instructed all prison chiefs to quarantine new detainees for 14 days before letting them join other inmates to ensure they are not infected with the virus.
“Although all prisons are overcrowded, I have commanded prison chiefs to prepare spare rooms for new detainees. This is the only step we can take to prevent and stop the virus from spreading,” he said.
According to Gen Kimseng, nearly 38,000 people are currently detained in 28 prisons.
He noted five new detainees, who were recently reported sick and suspected of being infected with COVID-19, tested negative for the virus.
“Our prison health officials are now monitoring their condition to ensure they are not infected because the test results show they have developed a cold,” he said.
Chhim Thida, director of Phnom Penh’s PJ Prison, said yesterday four new detainees are isolated and placed in separate rooms at his prison.
“They have been quarantined for three days already. We checked their temperature when they arrived. Although they had no symptoms, our health officials suggested to keep them isolated for 14 days,” he said. “This is vital to ensure they are not infected and the virus will not spread to other detainees.”
Mr Thida said some visitors are allowed to see detainees at PJ prison but noted preventative measures are being strictly implemented.
“First, we check their body temperature and ask them to correctly wear surgical masks. There is no touching and personal distance is limited. We put a glass screen in front of visitors and detainees when they talk to each other,” he said.
Mr Thida added prison health officials have regularly educated prison officials and inmates on using hand sanitisers and practising social distancing.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager of rights group Licadho, yesterday lauded the preventative move but called on prison officials to ensure all inmates are being given good food and the isolated detainees are being taken care of.
“It’s a serious concern if any detainee who has the disease is placed in a crowd because we all know the problem of prison overcrowding,” he said. “[However] with the temporary suspension of visits, some inmates who used to get food from their relatives would find it difficult to cope. So I think the officials should consider using a site where they can drop food and other necessities for detainees.”
Mr Sam Ath also called on the government to consider increasing the number of prisoners who receive clemency during the upcoming Khmer New Year to help the problem of prison overcrowding.
“Pregnant women, women with little children, and inmates with severe health conditions should be prioritised for clemency. I hope more prisoners could be released if they prove they have reformed,” he said.