Work release scheme proposed for French prisons

The creaking prison system in France unveils a new post-release labour scheme.

Submitted by jef costello on December 12, 2008

Under the terms of the "Les Clés de l’avenir" agreement signed earlier this year prisoners can have their sentences reduced if they pass a selection process and are found work with one of the partnership firms. The following four areas will be open to prisoners: catering, cleaning, building and logistics. Prisoners will have to wear electronic tags and they will be monitored for at least six months to ensure that they have 'successfully adapted' on release. Although Medef is claiming that their motives come from a sense of civic duty it isn't hard to see how workers who risk prison if they lose their jobs will be almost certain to face a higher degree of exploitation.

The French prison service is creaking at the seams, with an official capacity of 51000 inmates and a current total of 63750. For geographical reasons some prisons are operating at double their intended capacity; Gradignan, Montluçon, Poitiers were all named in a recent report by a coalition of left-wing groups that mounted an investigation into the prison system. In some cases a cell 14 metres square will contain 4 prisoners; in others two prisoners will have beds while a third will be on a mattress on the floor. The plan comes against a backdrop of a contracting economy, with net fall in employment of 0.3% in the last two months.

Overcrowding means access for prisoners to exercise, healthcare, education, sanitation, visitors and even to work. Prison officers unions have been strongly protesting against the overcrowding, collective action by officers at Toulon-La Farlède prevented an increase of 118 in prisoner numbers.

These conditions have been blamed for a rise in violence in the prisons and also for an unprecedented wave of suicides that has seen over 100 deaths this year already. The French probation service which, like all public services, is suffering from the heavy cuts ordered by Sarkozy is unable to cope with the numbers of prisoners currently on probation, with many officers assigned up to 200 cases.

The main reason for overcrowding is simply an increase in the numbers being sent to prison, especially for minor offences, some 15000 of the current prisoner population were sentenced to less than a year and half of those to less than six months.