Working in prison
More than 60,000 people are behind bars in France. Keeping inmates busy and preparing them for the day when they are released into the world of work are the biggest challenges facing the French prison service. One jail for long-term inmates has encouraged businesses to set up workshops within the prison walls.
Our correspondent reports from Muret jail, in south-west France.
From the outside are all the features of a high security jail, including armed guards in watchtowers in a prison that includes murderers, rapists and gangsters with too much time on their hands.
So the largest prison labour program has been developed here. Around a dozen companies have set up workshops. Inmates are putting together small parts that will go into planes assembled at the Airbus assembly lines down the road. Others are working on the air-conditioning, no less, for the A380 superjumbo aircraft!
Alain is one of the prison "aerospace" workers. He says one day he will have to find work in the "real world." He adds, “this work is good for us psychologically because otherwise we would be locked up in a cell all day long and this allows us to see something else. You can think that you are a little outside of the prison walls because even though this is still definitely a jail, at least in this workshop you do not see the bars."
Next door is the carpentry section favoured by convicted bank robbers. Inmates are building furniture. Some will go into student halls of residence. The inmates put in a 35-hour working week - and have deadlines to respect. The quality of their work is monitored. In other words, just like the outside. A big change, since many inmates are new to the world of legal work.
Patrice, with a screwdriver in hand, says that one day he will be on the outside and will have to get used to the daily work rhythm again. This workshop prepares him for that day. He hopes what he is doing now will help him to get a job later on.
Inmates’ wages help improve their daily lives - over two hundred have bought computers with their jobs or a satellite TV subscription. And around 10% of their salary is docked and goes towards their victims. Nevertheless, salaries between 400 and 800 euros a month are far less than on the outside.
Prison manager Christophe Usanos points out that inmates do not pay rent and low wages are the trade-off to entice companies - otherwise they would probably set up similar workshops in low cost countries.
Jail staff and inmates seem to agree that wages are secondary. In all, 9,000 prisoners work behind bars. Nearly all of them will be released one day. Preparing them for that day, rather than seeing them return as repeat offenders, is the real goal.