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Cambodia Is Building a Luxury Prison Where Inmates Pay Rent

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Updated: 11 October 2017
A luxury wing is being built at Cambodia’s notorious Prey Sar prison – but escaping the overcrowded cells comes with a hefty price tag. Construction started on the new privately-run facility – coined a “hotel or detention centre” by Interior Minister Sar Kheng – earlier this year, with the aim of providing better accommodation for inmates who can afford the upgrade.

The $4 million state-commissioned facility is being developed and operated by Malaysian-based Kunn Rekon Holdings Company, who will plough some of the profits back into the country. The first phase is slated for completion by mid-2018.

Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior, Pao Ham Phan, told local newspaper the Phnom Penh Post: “The one who can afford to pay to stay there we will allow to stay there.” He added the first phase will house up to 400 people, with the cost of comfort being decided by Kunn Rekon. Rooms will be larger, with space for exercise and worship. However, Pao added guards will not turn a blind eye to the law.

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The hotel jail is being built on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, next to the infamous Prey Sar prison. In February, more than 5,000 inmates were reported to be crammed inside the jail’s walls, despite capacity of just 1,200.

Upon completion, the new buildings will be able to accommodate up to 1,200 prisoners, including 180 inmates for drug rehabilitation. However, with corruption rife within the prison system, some human rights organisations claim that money already talks in prison life in Cambodia, with inmates buying themselves better conditions behind bars.

A 2015 report by Cambodian NGO Licadho, Rights at a Price: Life Inside Cambodia’s Prisons, revealed that wealthy criminals can snap up better cells, booze and even prostitutes to keep boredom at bay while serving time for their crime. It also reported “VIP cells” operating for well-connected prisoners.

In stark contrast, the remainder of prisoners live in squalor, with frequent reports of physical abuse and brute force against detainees, as well as prisoners having to fight for food and water.

The report states: “There is no doubt that, with few exceptions, an inmate’s financial status and position in the fiscal hierarchy is the defining factor in their daily prison life. The poorest inmates and those without families… sleep on the bare concrete cell floors, often near the toilet, and survive on the minimal prison food and water allocated.”

Duch Piseth, of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, slammed the creation of a luxury prison, claiming designating spaces as “good” and “bad” inside infringes on the rights and freedom of inmates, who should be treated equally regardless of their income.

Between 2006 and 2016, the country’s rate of imprisonment doubled, from 0.07 to 0.14 percent of the population.