France: first suicide in new youth prison

A sixteen year old boy hung himself in his cell on Saturday.

Submitted by jef costello on February 5, 2008

The youth was being held in an établissement pénitentiaire pour mineurs (EPM penitentiary establishment for minors.) in Meyzieu. This EPM was the first in the country and since its opening it has been plagued with problems. The prison authorities kept the news from other inmates until Monday "to avoid an explosion". So far five of the planned seven EPMs have been opened.

The boy had been in the prison since December 17th and dislocated his shoulder in a suicide attempt within a week of arrival. Authorities have not released details of the crime committed by the child.

The prison, which has a capacity of 60, opened last June and within a week inmates had rioted destroying part of the building using their feet and the butts of fire extinguishers.

Staff complained from the beginning that they were under-staffed and thus a programe of education and suport was not possible. Although there was an extremely strict regime it was coupled with a lack of planning meaning that many prisoners and workers were unaware of the programme from day to day. The lack of structure affected the lives of the inmates and the capacity of the guards. Many complained that instead of being able to work with the yung people they were infantilised and reduced to 'executors of policy' which mainly involved endless team sports and physical activity.

According to Alain Dru, secretary general of the CGT-PJJ "It should have been a gradual process, like the one we recommended, to give us time to lean to work together and to adapt to any problems, instead of that the opening was politically motivated and turned into a media sensation, forcing us to show quick results."

The buildings were poorly designed and conceived, the prison psychologist was not given a private office in which to have meetings with prisoners, the section co-ordinating release and the return to society was not even given a phone line.

Prison workers have described their disappointment at these prisons, finding themselves unable to perform many of the educative roles they were expecting due various restraints. The prisons have also been blamed for increasing violence with a guard hospitalised recently after an attack by two girls with no history of violence. Incidents of violence and arson are frequent.

Educational workers at the site went on strike along with their colleagues in Marseille and Toulouse last November to protest against the lack of resources and low pay. Prison psychologists also went on strike the previous year over job losses.

Two inmates at the Marseille prison escaped yesterday.