French corrections strike highlights big prison issues | National Union of Public and General Employees

French corrections strike highlights big prison issues

Murders, escapes, drug-dealing, overcrowding, underfunding and suicide behind unauthorized strike by thousands of correctional officers in France.

Paris (6 May 2009) - Approximately 4,000 French correctional officers have gone on strike and blocked the transfer of prisoners to protest overcrowding, insufficient funding and poor living conditions.

Approximately 120 of the country's 194 jails are affected. French prison guards are not legally entitled to strike but conditions are so serious that they have opted to walk off the job to draw national attention to their concerns.

French jails are often referred to as "the nation's shame" because of horrific living conditions, including severe overcrowding. The facilities have the highest suicide rates of all European penal institutions.

Eric Colin, a trade unionist with La CGT (Confédération générale du travail) describes the walkout as an initial step in an escalating campaign planned by guards in the coming days.

"We're going to block any intervention from the outside, that is, suppliers for the inmates' workshops and training as well as prison visitors," he says.

The officers say murders, prisoner escapes, drug-dealing and severe overcrowding are common occurrences inside the prisons. Inmates often sleep on floor mattresses in facilities housing a far greater number of prisoners than they are designed to accommodate.

As of April 1, French jails were housing 63,351 inmates, well above the 51,000 the prisons were built to hold.

A total of 115 suicides were reported last year. About 50 have occurred so far this year. Living and working conditions have also been blamed in some cases for suicides among prison officers.

The Sarkozy government has not addressed the core problems associated with the prisons. The problem has been exacerbated by Justice Minister Rachida Dati, who failed to deal with issues raised by the guard before the walkout occurred.

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