Overcrowding at penitentiaries will not allow for the closure of the country’s notorious prison labour camps any time soon, Deputy Home Affairs Minister Major General Aung Soe told Lower House lawmakers at Wednesday’s parliamentary session.
The deputy minister was responding to a question from MP Myint Lwin of Rangoon Division’s Twante township about whether there were plans to shut down the labour camps. Aung Soe said given the overcrowding, that would not be possible in the near term.
“There are 46 prisons under the Department of Prison Administration with a total housing capacity of 44,411 inmates. However, there are currently 74,893 people incarcerated in these prisons, exceeding the capacity by more than 30,000 inmates,” said the deputy minister.
He said provisions of the Burma prison manual allow for the transfer of inmates from overcrowded prisons to other detention facilities, including labour camps, which he said could provide a form of vocational training. Therefore, labour camps would not be shut down for the time being, he added.
Burma’s prison labour camps, widely known as yebat camps, were introduced in 1962, after General Ne Win’s seized power in a military coup.
In presenting his question at Wednesday’s parliamentary session, Myint Lwin noted the country’s liberalisation and political reforms in recent years, stressing that a democratic nation should not be built upon the labour of prison inmates.
The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission previously also raised overcrowding as a concern for the prison system, and suggested that the government build more detention facilities and increase the human resources devoted to prisons’ administration.
A months-long investigation by Myanmar Now earlier this year revealed that bribery, exploitation and abuse remained rife at prison labour camps.
There are about 20,000 prisoners toiling at 48 labour camps nationwide, according to that report, which cited figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Correctional Department.