Sarkozy's refusal to grant Bastille Day prison pardons stirs debate

9th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 9, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy's refusal to pardon prisoners on Bastille Day stirred debate, with the justice minister on Monday calling it a "true political break" with past practice by French leaders.

PARIS, July 9, 2007 (AFP) - President Nicolas Sarkozy's refusal to pardon prisoners on Bastille Day stirred debate, with the justice minister on Monday calling it a "true political break" with past practice by French leaders.

Sarkozy said in a newspaper interview Sunday that he would not uphold the tradition of according presidential pardons on July 14, sparking concern that disappointed prisoners could stage riots.

"Collective pardons do not make sense, they distort the very nature of punishment," Justice Minister Rachida Dati said Monday.

Dati told Europe 1 radio that Sarkozy's decision represented "a true political break that is in line with the president's commitments of no amnesty, no collective pardons."

Sarkozy, whose tough-on-crime approach was the hallmark of his previous tenure as interior minister, said in the interview with Le Journal du Dimanche that he had refused to sign a decree pardoning some 3,000 inmates.

"This is my idea of the republic. I will not grant any collective amnesty and will not accord any collective pardon," Sarkozy said.

The president balked at the notion that the prison pardons help ease overcrowding in French prisons.

"I recognize that for humanitarian or extraordinary reasons an individual pardon may be granted," said Sarkozy. "But I do not accept collective pardons as a way to manage prisons."

Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac last year allowed 3,500 inmates serving time for non-violent crimes to walk free.

About 61,000 inmates were behind bars as of June 1, some 12,000 more than France's 188 prisons were designed to hold.

Unions representing prison staff and magistrates warned that Sarkozy's decision could lead to unrest in overcrowded prisons.

"The absence of a decree raises fears of an explosion in the prisons," said Helene Franco, the secretary general of the magistrates' union.

Franco said the while the union was not a staunch defender of pardons by decree, the decision "does allow prisons to gain some breathing space", in particular given that incarceration rates have gone up.

Christophe Marques of the Force Ouvriere (Workers' Strength) union representing prison staff warned that the disappointment would be strongly felt among inmates.

"There is great expectation around the decision to commute sentences and it has a real psychological impact on the prison population," said Marques.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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