French prison guards tear-gassed in demos

5th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Tear gas was fired at protesters during demonstrations against overcrowding in France's jails.

PARIS – French prison guards clashed with police Monday during demonstrations against jail overcrowding that disrupted transfers of inmates at the country's major detention centres.

French police fired tear gas at protesters at the Fleury-Merogis prison, one of Europe's biggest, after they set fire to wooden crates in a bid to block access to and exits from the jail, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

Three unions representing prison guards organised the day of protest following a spate of prison suicides blamed on overcrowding and poor conditions at France's 200-odd jails.

"We need to have the resources to manage prison overcrowding," said Jean-Francois Forget, head of the UFAP union.

Under French law prison guards do not have the right to strike and several hundred warders turned up for the protests on their day off, underscoring their determination to press for changes.

"We don't need another task force but concrete measures," said Celine Verzeletti, of the CGT union.

Justice Minister Rachida Dati has offered to meet union leaders on Tuesday to address their demands for more staff to run the prisons.

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.

In April, France's prison population totalled 63,351, held in prisons built to accommodate some 52,535 inmates.

There have been 115 suicides among inmates last year, up from the previous two years but the uproar over the deaths prompted prison officials to stop releasing figures in 2009.

The Council of Europe has criticised France's prison system and singled out overcrowding 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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