French prison guards call for strike
After four suicides in French jails this October, prison guards call for a nationwide strike on 13 November.
22 October 2008
PARIS -- Several suicides in France's overcrowded and rundown jails is raising alarm, with prison guards calling a strike to urge government action.
Four inmates killed themselves in October including two 16-year-old boys found hanging from their cells in eastern France.
The deaths brought the number of suicides to 90 in the nation's 200 jails since January. In 2007, 96 inmates committed suicide, down from 122 in 2005.
France was criticised by the Council of Europe who charge its treatment of convicts is inhumane and degrading. There are currently 63,185 inmates in France held in cells built for 51,000 prisoners.
After repeatedly complaining of overcrowding and lack of resources, the three main prison guard unions called a nationwide strike for 13 November.
Union leaders accuse Justice Minister Rachida Dati of overwhelming the nation's prison system with her tough-on-crime approach while failing to strengthen efforts at rehabilitation.
"The penitentiaries are in agony and the minister doesn't see this", said Christophe Marques, a union official. "If this continues, there will be big trouble".
Unions are demanding more resources to run the prison system, a week after the European rights court condemned France for failing to prevent the suicide of a mentally ill inmate in a case from 2000.
Celine Verzeletti from the CGT union said suicide prevention in jails "was useless as long as conditions for detention remained this bad".
The International Observatory of Prisons (OIP), a prison watchdog group, said France needs to change its approach.
"This institution treats inmates like numbers", said OIP spokesman Patrick Marest.
OIP recommends that French prison authorities sharply reduce use of isolation cells, where suicides are more likely to occur, to punish inmates.
"Suicides are not necessarily the result of mental illness. They are often carried out by impulsive people who find themselves in difficult circumstances and who do not have any other way of being heard", said doctor Luc Massardier, vice president of an association of prison psychiatrists.
A 45-year-old man of Moroccan origin hung himself in his cell on Friday in a detention centre in Ensisheim in eastern France.
He was serving a 30-year sentence for murder but was not known to have suicidal tendencies.
On Thursday night, an Armenian committed suicide in a Strasbourg jail, using his shoelaces.
Earlier in October, a 16-year-old boy serving a six-month sentence for drug trafficking and driving without a licence killed himself in Metz prison, also in the east.
On 9 October, another 16-year-old was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell and rushed to hospital in Strasbourg where he was in a coma for a few days before dying.
The unease over October’s wave of suicides came as Dati disputed judiciary reform with magistrates that led to protests across France.
Responding to critics, the justice ministry says it is adding more than 1,000 jobs in the prison system in 2009 and is outlining a bill to improve prison conditions.
Opposition Socialists are calling on the government to immediately provide psychological support for inmates and begin a major reform of the prison system.
[AFP / Expatica]