90 inmates commit suicides in French 'shame' prisons

Reports by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Council of Europe have accused French jails of being dirty, degrading and inhumane.

90 inmates commit suicides in French 'shame' prisons

French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced measures on Tuesday to cut the number of suicides in the prisons, where dozens of inmates kill themselves every year.

Human rights groups as well as observers from the European Union have criticised French prisons as dirty and overcrowded and highlighted conditions in some jails where as many as four or five inmates are held in a single cell.

Alliot-Marie announced measures, based on a report commissioned by her predecessor Rachida Dati. Speaking during a visit to a prison in central France, Alliot-Marie said there had been 81 prison suicides so far this year, against 115 in the whole of last year.

Prison campaigners, who also count deaths in hospital after suicide attempts in prison, put the number over 90 this year.

"Paper pyjamas"

The measures include better training for staff as well as equipping prisons with non-flammable mattresses, and non-tearable sheets and paper pyjamas to reduce the number of hangings and strangulations.

"Obviously when you're facing a tragedy like prison suicide, all measures are welcome but this is not adequate to the scale of the situation," Florence Aubenas, head of prison rights group Observatoire International des Prisons, told France Info radio.

"We're talking about human rights and the response is paper pyjamas," she said.

"Independent report"

But the report's author, psychiatrist Louis Albrand, accused the government of cherry-picking from his study, saying its plans were "disappointing."

"This is not a serious response. We need genuine penitentiary reform," said Albrand, who wants an overhaul of jails in favour of smaller-scale structures, and curbs on the use of solitary confinement, from 45 to 20 consecutive days.

Albrand announced the creation of an independent group of experts composed of former ministers, intellectuals and magistrates that will be looking into the matter. Their report is expected in October.

"Zero tolerance"

President Nicolas Sarkozy acknowledged this year that prisons were the nation's "shame".

Reports by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Council of Europe have accused French jails of being dirty, degrading and inhumane.

Campaigners say the government's own law-and-order policies have pushed up the prison population, which has climbed from 59,520 in 2006, the year before Sarkozy's election, to more than 62,000 in jails designed to house some 52,000 inmates.

Campaigners have warned that Sarkozy's repressive zero tolerance laws will lead to more people being held on remand, more prison sentences and an even further rise in overcrowding. The French parliament is currently considering a bill on the number of prisoners and lengths of sentences.



Agencies

Last Mod: 19 Ağustos 2009, 13:17
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