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French police battle protesting prison wardens

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-05-05

Prison guards are blocking several French prisons to protest staff shortages and poor working conditions. On Tuesday, riot police forcibly removed protesters at jails near Paris.

Prison wardens are blocking several French jails for a second day on Tuesday, as riot police used tear gas against protesters at Europe’s biggest jail, outside Paris.

At the Fleury-Merogis prison, several dozen police dismantled barricades made of wooden crates and metal fencing and later moved to dislodge protestors from the jail entrance early on Tuesday, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

On Monday, French prison guards, who are not allowed to strike, launched a “progressive blockade” on 120 out of France’s 194 jails to protest work conditions and press for more staff.

“More that 4,000 employees gathered in front of prison entrances,” said Jean-François Forget, secretary-general of the French trade union Ufap-Unsa.

The justice minister, Rachida Dati, met union leaders on Tuesday morning as protests continued. Earlier on Tuesday, the budget minister, Eric Woerth, had said that between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs were created for prison staff in 2009 and that was enough.

Incidents between prison wardens and staff continued on Tuesday around the Santé prison in Paris and in the Baumettes in Marseille. The jail administration said it had not released figures on how many jails were blockaded on the second day of demonstrations.

High inmate-suicide rates

According to Paul Louchouarn, the director of the Fleury-Merogis prison, trouble had been brewing for a long time.

“Prison guards warned that protests would hit a crescendo. Their stance is going to become predictably tougher,” he told FRANCE 24 on Monday.

Tension in French prisons is rising as the suicide rate behind bars hits a new high. In 2008, 115 prisoners committed suicide, 20 percent more than in 2007.

According to the Paris-based NGO International Observatory of Prisons, there have been some 38 suicides among inmates since January 2009.

Ten prison wards have also committed suicide in 2009, reported French daily Le Monde.

“It is too early to say whether this is a statistical incident or whether it reflects a clear trend,” says Louchouarn.


Inmate overcrowding is another cause of concern for prison guards.

“When the prison in Nanterre opened in 1991, 30 inmates were kept on the first floor. Today there are 90 prisoners, three times as many,” trade unionist David Besson told FRANCE 24. “Prisons are becoming more and more inhumane and prison wardens are always in a rush.”

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

The Council of Europe estimates that prison suicides in France are double that of Germany and Britain and three times that of Spain.

Last week, Dati failed to prevent protests during last-ditch talks with trade unions in Paris.

“Trade unions walked out of the meeting because our demands weren’t being met,” said trade unionist Besson.

Date created : 2009-05-05