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French Prison Service Steadily Improves

NCJ Number
Corrections Compendium Volume: 27 Issue: 12 Dated: December 2002 Pages: 6-7,22
Gary Hill
Date Published
December 2002
3 pages
This document discusses aspects of the French prison system.
The French Prison Service is under the direction of the Ministry of Justice. The prison service accounts for more than 28 percent of the ministry’s budget. Its administrative offices are located in Paris, and 10 regional administrative offices manage the 185 prisons located in France and French Overseas Territories. Of the nearly 23,000 civil servants employed in the prison department, about 18,500 are prison officers and 1,400 are social workers. One hundred seventeen remand centers are in charge of minor offenders serving sentences of 12 months or less. Twenty-three detention centers manage offenders whose social rehabilitation seems likely--discipline is not too harsh and the emphasis is on social rehabilitation. Twenty-six penitentiary centers are of a mixed nature. Some sections of the centers are equivalent to a remand center, others to a detention center. Six maisons centrals are in charge of long-term and habitual offenders; the emphasis in these prisons is more on security than on rehabilitation. Thirteen day prisons allow inmates with short sentences to leave the facility for work during the day and return in the evening. Crime is classified in three groups: contraventions (petty offenses), delits (offenses of greater importance), and crimes (offenses subject to custodial sentences). On January 1, 2000, the French prison population was 51,441, with a capacity designed for 49,299. About 40 percent of French inmates were on remand or were awaiting appeal proceedings. Since 1987, compulsory work in prison has been eliminated. Work and educational activities are voluntary. Allegations of filthy conditions, drug dealing among correctional officers, rape, suicide, and inmate beatings are a concern within the French prison system. As a result of media coverage, the penitentiary system will be placed on the Parliament agenda in the near future. It has also been alleged that French prisons have become prime training grounds for religious extremism. More than half of the inmate population is Muslim. France has adopted drastic reforms and instituted a program to update its facilities and eliminate overcrowding.