Council of Europe criticises French prison again
The human rights commissioner slams France’s overcrowded jails and the harsh treatment of inmates.21 November 2008
STRASBOURG – The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Thursday slammed "unacceptable" conditions in France's overcrowded and dilapidated jails, where some 90 inmates have committed suicide this year.
Thomas Hammarberg said in the latest of a string of criticisms by the pan-European watchdog that the high level of suicides in French prisons is "a symptom of the structural deficiencies in the penitentiary system".
He singled out "the unacceptable living conditions faced by many detainees, who have to cope with overcrowding, lack of privacy, dilapidated facilities and substandard hygiene."
Hammarberg also said he was concerned by the harsh treatment of defendants and inmates by the authorities and the courts, including pre-trial detention on the basis of the risk of danger.
"Dangerousness, on the basis of which preventive detention is ordered, is not a clear legal or scientific concept," he said.
Such practices "must remain the last resort, and other recidivism prevention measures should be applied in the first instance".
He also attacked recent French measures to check youth crime, saying "the problem of juvenile delinquency will not be solved by imposing harsher penalties."
"A successful policy should entail measures facilitating prevention, rehabilitation and the social integration of young people in difficulty," he said.
Regarding France's policies on illegal immigration, he said the fixing of quotas for repatriation of migrants lacking residence papers, "raises serious human rights concerns".
Hammarberg criticised in particular arrests of immigrants outside schools their children attend or at regional government office while they seek to regularise their position.
Hammarberg's report, following a visit to France in May, is the latest in a series of such attacks by the pan-European rights watchdog, which charges that the treatment of French convicts is inhumane and degrading.
There are currently more than 63,000 prisoners in France held in cells built for 51,000.
Union leaders accuse Justice Minister Rachida Dati of overloading the nation's prison system with her tough-on-crime approach while failing to strengthen efforts at rehabilitation.
The International Observatory of Prisons (OIP), another watchdog group, also says France needs to change its approach.
The justice ministry says it is adding more than 1,000 jobs in the prison system over the next year and is drafting a bill to improve conditions.
[AFP / Expatica]