French police clamp down on prison guard protests

6th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

French prison guards have stepped up the protest as they clash with police for a second day while protesting overcrowding in French jails.

PARIS – French prison guards clashed with police for a second day on Tuesday after vowing to step up protests against overcrowded jail conditions blamed for a wave of suicides behind bars.

Anti-riot police fired tear gas at prison wardens blocking access to France's biggest jail, Fleury-Merogis outside Paris, and dismantled barricades, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Dozens of prison wardens blocked access to La Sante prison in Paris, prompting police to intervene, while about 100 guards used tires and wooden crates to mount barricades at Le Fresnes in the Paris area.

The prison guards launched their protest movement on Monday to press demands for more staff and better working conditions after a wave of prison suicides raised alarm about the state of France's 194 prisons.

Justice Minister Rachida Dati met union leaders in a bid to end the protests that spread to 79 jails on the first day of unrest.

But the minister, who is to leave her post in the coming weeks, was not expected to make any firm commitments.

"The correctional system has been ailing for years," said union official Christophe Marques as he headed into the meeting in Paris. "Rachida Dati has to give us an encouraging sign before she leaves her ministry."

Budget minister Eric Woerth poured cold water on the prison guards' demands, saying that between 2,000 and 3,000 extra jobs were created to bolster prison staffing this year and that there would be no more.

"I hear their demands, but there already have been some increases and I think we need to stop there," Woerth told French I-tele television.

France has some 63,351 prisoners held in decrepit prisons built to accommodate some 52,535 inmates.

There were 115 suicides among inmates last year, more than in the previous two years.

Union leaders say between 45 and 50 prisoners have already taken their own lives this year, but prison officials have refused to release figures.

There were also clashes on Tuesday at a prison in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, although guards in the northern cities of Rennes, Brest, Nantes suspended their protest pending the outcome of talks with Dati.

Union officials complained police had been heavy-handed during their clampdown on protestors on Monday, resorting to rubber bullets.

About 4,000 guards took part in the first day of demonstrations on Monday, according to union leaders, and they later voted to keep up protests until the government meets their demands.

"How can we do more with fewer staff and more inmates?" said Jean-Francois Forget from the Ufap-Unsa union.

Under French law, prison guards do not have the right to strike and many turned up for the protests on their day off.

The protest action at the jails caused trial hearings to be delayed for a few hours after defendants transferred from the prisons turned up late, in convoys under police escort.

The Council of Europe has criticised France's prison system and singled the overcrowding there as among the worst in Western Europe.

The 47-nation organisation estimates that prison suicides in France are double that of Germany and Britain and three times that of Spain.

AFP / Expatica

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