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Justice minister announces measures to reduce prison suicides

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-08-18

As French prisons experience a rise in suicides, French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has announced new preventive measures, including kits containing paper pyjamas to avoid hangings, and support for vulnerable inmates.

On Monday, an inmate at Baumettes prison in Marseille was found hanging in his cell, bringing the total number of French prison suicides so far this year to 75, according to official figures from the justice ministry. Several organisations put the figure at somewhere between 88 and 92.

A report from France’s prison service on the rise in deaths was submitted to the French Justice Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie on Tuesday.

Alliot-Marie announced new preventive measures after visiting a prison in the French city of Orleans later on Tuesday.

The measures include providing special kits for prisoners with paper pyjamas and bed linen that cannot be torn, to help prevent hangings, as well as extra support for prisoners identified as being in a particularly fragile state.

Official data shows that the number of suicides in French prisons rose from 96 in 2007 to 115 in 2008.

The report from the prison service proposed a new tackling the problem by ensuring that every prisoner is individually monitored and that contact is kept with the family.

Florence Aubenas, president of the International Observatory on Prisons, said the report would “not change much."

"The report offers suggestions, but people do whatever they please with the proposed guidelines,” Aubenas told French radio RTL last week.

"Buried" guidelines

Another set of guidelines on how to prevent suicides was published on June 15, drawn up by a commission headed by Dr Louis Albrand at the demand of former justice minister Rachida Dati.

Dr Albrand later criticized the government for toning down the document and then effectively “burying” it.

Dr 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.

Speaking on Europe 1, France's secretary of state for justice, Jean-Marie Bockel, attributed many suicides to the “shock” of entering prison life, lamenting that France “had too many suicides and must do better”.

Specialists and unions blame the suicides on the overcrowding of prisons, a reason previously rejected by the justice ministry under Rachida Dati.

On August 1, French prisons had space for 52,741 inmates, while the actual number of prisoners was 62,420. A bill to reduce both the number of prisoners and the length of their sentences is currently going through the French Parliament.

Date created : 2009-08-18