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Inmates at the Fleury-Merogis Prison, France. (Photo from hotelroomsearch.net)
Paris

Striking French prison warders face jihadists inside, police outside

At the Fleury-Merogis Prison in the suburbs of Paris, some hundred prison workers protested against last week's assault on guards at the Vendin-le-Vieil prison in northern France, which saw three guards injured in a scissor attack by a jihadist. They faced riot police outside.

Published: January 18, 2018, 7:55 am

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    A UFAP union representative told Sputnik France that French prisons “have a major problem with security”. This protest was one of dozens being staged across the country. Authorities estimate that half of France’s 188 prisons have been affected by protests.

    Sputnik France reported from the scene that workers affiliated with Union Federale Autonome Penitentiare (UFAP) linked arms and shouted slogans on Monday night as riot police made use of smoke grenades to drive them back.

    “If we’re talking specifically about the Fleury-Merogis prison…today a single guard is responsible for 90 prisoners. Add to this the new issue of Islamist terrorists who we have been asked to supervise,” the UFAP spokesperson said.

    He added that the unionists were prepared for clashes with police, and determined to hold their ground in an effort to make their grievances known.

    The Union representative explained that with rare exceptions, terrorists are commonly held with ordinary criminals. In that sense, the category of a “radicalized” inmate is essentially meaningless as guards are tasked with overseeing almost hundred other inmates at the same time.

    Located in the town of Fleury-Mérogis, in the southern suburbs of Paris, the prison holds 3 800 prisoners, the largest prison in Europe. It is operated by the Ministry of Justice and is notorious as a leading center of Islamist radicalization in European prisons.

    There is wire surrounding the top of the building, preventing helicopter and other possible escapes, while the bottom of the building is enclosed with trash that the prisoners have thrown.

    The Vendin-le-Vieil prison’s director resigned on Monday amid protests over French prisons’ insufficient staff and resources to contain the criminal population, including the highly dangerous jihadists.

    French prison warder unions have accused authorities of failing to deal with the more than 4 000 recently recorded cases of violence against them. President Emmanual Macron promised to come up with an action plan to deal with the situation next month.

    One of Macron’s election pledges was the establishment of of 15 000 new prison cells.

    There is a statistically high incidence of incarcerated criminal non-Muslims converting to Islam while in the prison system. As a result, the overall imprisoned Muslim population – jailhouse converts to Islam plus inmates who entered the prison system as Muslims – is growing rapidly.

    A French government audit of the prison system described radical Islamists as constituting a sort of prison “aristocracy,” governing fellow inmates by forbidding them to listen to music, shower, or watch a women’s sports event on television. They possess cell phones and are in regular contact with fellow Muslims both in Europe and in the Middle East.

    Some 50 to 60 percent of the 67 000 convicted criminals serving time in French prisons are Muslim, while Muslims make up only 7.5 percent of the population of France. Experts also noted that in some prisons, like those near Paris and Marseille, the percentage of Muslim inmates is even higher.

    In the United Kingdom, the country’s total Muslim population exceeded over 3 million in 2016, though that constituted only around 4.8 percent of the general UK population. Nevertheless, the proportion of UK prisoners who were Muslims in 2016 was 15 percent.

    Of the millions of Muslims in the general UK population in 2011, only 5 000 were persons who converted to Islam that year. Yet in that same year “[a]round 30 percent of Muslim inmates are converts [to Islam…] and many of those are, according to previous Home Office research, from black” ethnic backgrounds. In 1999, it was found that in the United Kingdom “37 percent of Muslim male prisoners were black Muslims compared with 7 percent [Black Muslims] in the wider [British Muslim] population,” with most Black Muslim inmates being converts to Islam. Meanwhile, “less than 1 percent of [British] Black Caribbeans are Muslims generally, in jail the figure is almost 19 percent.”

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