A controversial revenue-generating scheme in the form of a for-profit "prison hotel" is nearing completion in Cambodia.
The $4m project sees a new wing with more commodious cells built at Cambodia’s largest prison, called Prey Sar in Phnom Penh, to which wealthy inmates can move for a fee.
The 1.5ha facility will offer a variety of rooms for about 400 people, including singles and doubles, and dormitories housing three to four guests. There will also be space for exercise and prayer.
The developer of the "five-star jail" is private company Kunn Rekon Holdings, which has agreed a 45-year build-operate-transfer deal with the government that includes sharing revenues.
This week a spokesperson for the General Department of Prisons said only the connection of utilities remained to be completed, reports Phnom Penh Post.
The scheme was announced in 2016 by interior minister Sar Kheng as a "hotel or detention centre", and ground broke in May 2017.
The idea of commercialising the criminal justice system by introducing different grades of accommodation has proved controversial.
Duch Piseth, advocacy officer at the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, told The Phnom Penh Post in 2017 that designating areas within prisons as a "good space or bad space" infringed the rights and freedoms of all inmates, who should be treated equally.
However, the Cambodian prison system is already dominated by corruption, according to a 2015 report by the Cambodian Centre for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights. This found that the 18 prisons it monitored already allowed wealthy inmates to pay for better cells, alcohol and prostitutes, and some offered "VIP cells" for well-connected prisoners.
The report commented: "Prisoners in Cambodia live in appalling conditions. The government allots 70 cents to each prisoner for food. Water is often unsafe to drink and scarce; some prisoners receive as little as five litres per day for washing and drinking.
"Prisons are also overcrowded, with as little as 0.7 sq m of space per prisoner. Those who break prison rules can be shackled, beaten or kept in their cells for weeks on end. New prisoners are often subject to initiation beatings, which are carried out by groups of inmates designated and directed by guards. The illegal use of forced prison labour for private contractors has also been a problem in recent years."
Image: Prisoners in Cambodia have an average of 0.7 sq m eachÂ (CC BY-NC ND/ICRC/T Tuitiengsat)