This report, published by the OIP with the support of Amnesty International, draws up a severe inventory of “the ineffectiveness of the measures taken by the public authorities” to reduce this endemic evil, and its consequences on respect for the right to dignity in prison.
The OIP, at the origin of a dispute before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), had obtained in January 2020 the “historic” condemnation of France, in a decision enjoining it to definitively reduce its overpopulation. prison.
Two years after this conviction, final since May 30, 2020, the number of prisoners in France is still at record levels.
According to the latest figures from the prison administration, on May 1, French prisons had 71,038 prisoners for 60,722 operational places, i.e. an overall prison density of 117%.
The health crisis had however given rise to “mad hope”: in the spring of 2020, due to lower entries into detention and early release measures, the average occupancy rate of prisons had fallen in two months below the threshold of 100 %.
But “for lack of a proactive policy”, the number of detainees “did not stop growing” from the summer of 2020, deplores the OIP.
The association had already sounded the alarm with other organizations in June 2021 and urged the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron to “act”, a year after a previous call summoning him to seize a “historic opportunity”.
At the end of the first confinement, “there was a favorable context. It is a call that was not heard”, regrets Cécile Marcel, director of the OIP.
“We are launching a new appeal for political courage and respect for a court decision,” she adds.
“The pandemic has shown that it is possible, it just takes political will,” adds Marco Perolini, political adviser at Amnesty International.
– “The more we build, the more we fill” –
Detention conditions are “particularly degraded and degrading” in remand prisons, where people awaiting trial and those sentenced to short sentences are imprisoned, and where the average occupancy rate has now reached 138, 9%.
As a visible consequence of this overcrowding, 1,850 detainees are forced to sleep each evening on a mattress placed on the floor, while other prisoners are locked up 22 hours a day in twos, threes or fours in 9 m2 cells, a situation which heightens tensions and violence.
This observation is “old and repeated”, underlines the OIP. France is regularly singled out for its unworthy conditions of detention by two independent administrative authorities responsible for ensuring respect for fundamental rights, the General Control of Places of Deprivation of Liberty (CGLPL) and the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights. (CNCDH).
Faced with this situation, reforms have been undertaken but “they largely miss the factors at the origin of prison inflation – and many of them even promise to contribute to it”, estimates the OIP.
The Observatory again points to the “impasse” of a policy “which consists of continuously increasing the number of prison places, which is both costly and counterproductive”.
“For thirty years, more than 36,000 prison places have been created without effect on overcrowding and the adage that the more you build, the more you fill has always been true,” argues the association.
In order for France to come “into compliance” with the requirements of the ECHR, the OIP and Amnesty International are calling for the establishment of a national action plan against prison overcrowding, including in particular the establishment of a constraining mechanism of prison regulation.
They also call for a review of budgetary priorities and a redirection of funds earmarked for the extension of the penitentiary stock towards the improvement of detention conditions and the strengthening of alternatives to incarceration.