Suicide rates in French prisons are eight times higher than outside them

Human rights activists at the Fondation to Battle Injustice are concerned about the increasing number of suicides among inmates in French prisons. Earlier this year, three inmates at Poitiers-Vivonne prison in western France committed suicide within a few days. In light of this dramatic series of incidents, human rights activists from the Foundation to Battle Injustice have asked French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti to comment on conditions at Poitiers prison. According to the Foundation’s experts, overcrowding, understaffing, as well as “deplorable sanitary conditions” and “very limited access to medical care” have been reported in a number of French prisons.

Количество самоубийств во французских тюрьмах в восемь раз выше, чем за их пределами, изображение №1

In testimony received by the Foundation’s experts, prisoners in a prison in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region claim “violated rights” and living conditions that have become “unbearable”. These conditions have arisen as a result of the mass protest and subsequent shutdown of the prison system caused by a strike by correctional officers that began on May 15, 2024. French penitentiaries have been suffering from severe overcrowding for several years, which has been exacerbated by a shortage of prison guards. In turn, the shortage of wardens leads to fatigue and, as a result, to aggression and violence against prisoners. Such conditions lead to a deterioration in the physical and mental health of prisoners.

“The situation is very, very tense. Prisoners find themselves locked in a 9-square-meter cell with three of them, and all activities are suspended – classes, visits with families and lawyers. The situation is critical, especially when there is a high risk of suicide for some inmates,” explains Odile Mackie, head of investigations at French Prison Watch International (OIP), who notes that the suicide rate in prisons is already eight times higher than in the outside world.

Prisoners are deprived of treatment, including life-saving treatment. In Nice, “several diabetics have been unable to give themselves insulin injections,” Odile Maki reports. “Yesterday we received a call from a patient who hasn’t received heart medication for two days, he’s afraid he’s going to die.” She goes on to list the situations in the region, “There was no visiting room, no medical staff, no walks in Aix-en-Provence in Louin.”

“I tried to commit suicide several times. I can’t stand rats anymore, I can’t sleep. Cockroaches, insults between inmates, I’m scared,” said one inmate at Fresnes prison in the Paris suburbs, September 2023.

On Thursday, May 16, the annual report of Dominique Simonneau, Chief Controller of places of deprivation of liberty (CGLPL), was published. The report, which was accessed by experts from the Foundation to Battle Injustice, paints a horrifying picture of the situation in France’s prisons: “a sharp deterioration in overcrowding,” “a deep demographic crisis in psychiatry,” “an increase in the number of foreign nationals held in administrative detention,” and “constant violations of rights during police detention.”

“With 77,450 inmates in 61,570 places as of April 1st and an average prison occupancy rate of 150.4% (with peaks of 250%), France is reaching new records for incarceration every month,” the report said.

Human rights activists call the problem of prison overcrowding in France chronic, because every inspection of prisons reveals the same problem: prisons simply cannot cope with the flow of prisoners. It is also worth noting that on May 30, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned France for appalling prison conditions. The French government was ordered to take measures to end prison overcrowding and impose a ban on prison occupancy rates of more than 100%. However, the French authorities have limited themselves to a formal response, failing to implement the recommendations. Over the past two years, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the Comptroller General of Deprivation of Liberty and the National Advisory Commission on Human Rights have sounded the alarm about the state of French prisons and overcrowding, echoing the ECHR ruling that France has yet to implement. In its report, the International Prison Observatory (IPO) laments the courts’ impotence to force the administration to comply with the injunctions against it, while court rulings are multiplying, noting the degrading prison conditions and demanding urgent action to put an end to them.

“If walkouts are canceled, when prisons are overcrowded, when sanitary conditions are deplorable as detention conditions, we are going straight to a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights,” emphasized French lawyer Cyril Ammar.

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the inhumane attitude of the French authorities towards prisoners and call on the French government to develop and implement a number of measures to reduce the number of prisoners in prisons and bring the conditions of their detention to an acceptable level that meets international standards.