Call to end to 'inhumane' solitary confinement in French prisons

Solitary confinement cells commonly used as punishment in French prisons should be abolished, a rights group has warned as it called out "serious and numerous infractions" to the dignity and fundamental rights of inmates.

The French chapter of the International Prison Observatory (OIP) said in a recent report that half of the punishments decided by prison disciplinary commissions in 2022 led to solitary confinement.

It calculated that prisoners had spent more than 100,000 days in cells that offered "inhuman" conditions with "furniture bolted to the floor, windows that barely allow light in, total isolation, one hour per day outside in a 'walking courtyard' with barely any view of the sky and no equipment" for exercise.

The practice runs counter to recommendations from the Council of Europe, which says solitary isolation should be imposed as a punishment "only in exceptional cases, and for a specified period of time, which should be as short as possible".

At the core of France's penal system lies a multitude of offences, ranging from serious infractions to seemingly trivial matters like dress code violations or minor disturbances.

The vague nature of these offences often leads to arbitrary enforcement and a lack of due process for the accused, the NGO said.

Abuse of disciplinary rules

Investigations into alleged infractions are often fleeting, the OIP alleged, with little regard for gathering comprehensive evidence or considering mitigating factors.

(with AFP)

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