The dire overpopulation of France’s penitentiary institutions has not really featured in the media. And it should have, according to Catholic daily La Croix on Tuesday, May 14.
The record number of detainees held in French jails has now reached new heights. There were 71 828 people in prison as of April 1. Last year, at the same time, they were 70 000.
The Ministry of Justice relayed the news of their overcrowded facilities this week. According to the monthly statistics of the penitentiary administration, published on Tuesday, the number of prisoners in French prisons has now reached 71 828, which is an absolute record in France.
Even though the number includes its Départements d’Outre Mer – Territoires d’Outre Mer, known as the DOM-TOM, most prisoners are held in Europe. The DOM-TOM consist of all the French-administered territories outside the European continent, with different levels of autonomy, although all have representation in both France’s National Assembly and Senate, which together make up the French Parliament.
The previous record was set on December 1, with 71 061 prisoners.
The government will have to respond quickly, especially since the unions of prison staff have been complaining for many years about a lack of resources, manpower and equipment. In an attempt to heal this chronic issue of prison overpopulation, the executive plans to create 7 000 new places by the year 2022, as well as a redefinition of the scale of sentences.
But the prisons present another challenge too: With assassinated supervisors, and a growing pool of Islamist fanaticism, also serving as jihadist incubators, the French prison system has been under attack. An unavoidable debate is looming, especially with the “returning jihadists” coming from Syria or elsewhere.
Between ultra-protection of the “rights” of the detainees, on the one hand and realism, on the other, political commentator del Valle noted that these “delayed human bombs” in France continue to intimidate and threaten prison guards.
Systematic search has been forbidden in prisons, and French political authorities have refused to use bodyscans. “These prohibitions, which make optimal prison security impossible, have been taken in recent years in the name of the higher principle of ‘respect for privacy’, ‘human dignity’ and ‘the privacy of prisoners’. The systematic searches and scanning during their movements and family visits, now constitute unacceptable ‘intrusions’,” says Del Valle.
According to Del Valle the generic term “radicalized” completely ignores the ideological element by implicitly shifting the responsibility to an entirely external and nebulous process.
As an example of the semantic war, a jihadist’s attack on unarmed monitors, was explained in unison by the media as “radicalized circles had reached out to him” even after the jihadist himself had pledged allegiance to ISIS.
The prison administration regularly agrees that individuals, who deserve total isolation, should enjoy a stay in one of the “UVFs” (Family Life Units). These comfortable studios which, under the guise of the “empowerment” of prisoners, allow them to live in the presence of their families or companions in pleasant and privatized places.
Prisoners and their families can spend from 6 to 48 hours in these places which are in fact modern, small apartments of around 50 to 80m².
Del Valle argues that the overprotection of the individual to the detriment of the collective interest, has been rife. Immigrants are rarely deported as they may face “hardship” in their countries of origin.
In the ubiquitous case of Kamel Daoudi, a terrorist sentenced to six years imprisonment for “criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise” and who had been deprived of his French nationality, approached the European Court of Human Rights. His lawyers argued that Daoudi would be threatened in Algeria, and he was eventually placed under house arrest in France.
Because of this, since April 2008, this dangerous terrorist has been housed in a comfortable hotel, at the expense of French taxpayers. Kamel Daoudi even allows himself the luxury of arriving late for his police checks, while exceeding the curfew he is supposed to meet in return for his release.
Recently, the Minister of the Interior decided to transfer Daoudi from his hotel in Charente Maritime to a hotel in Aurillac, without notifying the municipality of Aurillac the arrival of new inhabitant.
Prevention and de-radicalization measures have been ineffective, and in terms of investment, it may be noted that family allowances and other state financial contributions are also part of integration measures that have not worked, says Del Valle.