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Inmates are taught how to grow mushrooms. The bottles contain fungus which is left to sprout in a dark and damp bamboo hut. Prisoners classed as a low security risk are entitled to participate in rehabilitation schemes. Prisoners can learn new skills and earn some money to smooth the transition back into society once released from prison. © Charles Fox

Often one presumes the prisons of a country have been put in place by the ruling party, coalition, dictator or whatever power base dominates.

Rarely does it occur that prisons and criminal justice systems could be established not by political forces per se, but by aid or reconstruction efforts.

(It’s worth noting, part of the responsibility of the allied occupiers in Afghanistan was to construct humane prisons that catered separately for men. women and children, which I have written about before).*

In Cambodia, $1 million dollars of the Australian government’s aid agency AusAid went toward the construction of Kandal Provincial Prison. It opened in 2006 and was designed to set the standard for humane incarceration in Cambodia. Sadly, overcrowding remains.

Photojournalist Charles Fox visited Kandal and I was interested in his images of culturally-appropriate rehabilitation. Seems to me that curd factories and mushroom cultivation are Cambodia’s equivalent to the US’ prison industries that press license plates and manufacture the executive suites for state attorney offices.


“Kandal Provincial Prison houses 885 inmates including 38 women and 68 minors. Prisoners sleep in one of eight large buildings. The buildings are open dorm rooms, there are no cells at Kandal Provincial Prison. Prisoners classed as a low security risk are entitled to participate in rehabilitation schemes. Prisoners can learn new skills and earn some money to smooth the transition back into society once released from prison.

Overcrowding is a big concern across Cambodia’s prisons. Kandal Provincial Prison is no exception and  is currently operating at around twice its capacity. The Cambodian Government has announced plans to build a new prison in Phnom Kravanh district to house an additional 2500 inmates to ease overcrowding.”

*No organisation is apolitical. All govt, non-govt, religious and social justice organisations are invested in politics – they just don’t sit in parliament or power-broker offices.

Inmates can work in a bean curd factory. The curd is left to dry in the sun and then used to feed both inmates and staff and also sold at market. © Charles Fox

Kandal Provincial Prison houses a garment factory as part of the rehabilitation scheme to give inmates a trade for when they leave prison. The factory has over 150 textile machines which produce plain cotton blend material. The garments are sold back to a Chinese garment factory which provided the machines to the prison. In mates can earn $10 dollars a month working in the factory. © Charles Fox

Inmate feeds fish which are farmed at Kandal Provincial Prison. The fish is used to feed the inmates and staff and also sold at market. © Charles Fox

Today, 26th July 2010, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Comrade Duch, who is charged with war crimes and for his part in the deaths of up to 12,000 Cambodians will face a final verdict.

In 2003, Masaru Goto photographed ten survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Goto: “The Khmer Rouge regime is remembered for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people (from an estimated 1972 population of 7.1 million) under its regime, through execution, starvation and forced labor. Directly responsible for the death of about 750,000, the policies of the Khmer Rouge led, mainly through starvation and displacement, to the death of more than 1 million more people. In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population of the country it ruled, it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century.”

Invisible Scars is a portrait series of “the older generation in Cambodia that represents survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 70s. Most of this group were forced to leave their village to undertake slave labour in the ricefields … The ones that survived returned to their homelands after the Khmer Rouge period in 1979.  Some talk about what happened 35 years ago, others close their eyes or even turn away and continue what they were doing, taking care of their grandchildren.”

I am well aware of several photographers having dealt with the torture camps and prisons of Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia (not least those of Nhem Ein, official prison photographer for the Tuol Sleng prison). I will return to these practitioners and history in time, but for now I’ll just alert you to this one project by Eric de Vries.

Thanks to Bob for the tip off.

Photographer Matt Writtle traveled to Cambodia with the charity EveryChild and gained unique access to some of the country’s provincial prisons and children incarcerated there.

Writtle narrates a slideshow and explains the unknown prospects for the boys. Of the nine youths sharing a cell, six are in for serious crimes and three for petty theft.

The common factor among the group is that none have been given legal representation and none of them are aware of their rights.

One boy, Sam Nang, didn’t know whether his brothers or sisters would be able to visit him, but given the requirements to bribe prison officers to secure a visit it was unlikely. Sam Nang and his siblings have no definable income.

Cambodia has no juvenile justice system, so youths are processed as adults. I have voiced concern about the safety of adolescents in South East Asian prisons before, specifically in the Philippines (see end of article).


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