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Prison reforms beyond bars

As UN rights body criticises overcrowding, Justice Minister Rachida Dati proposes new forms of punishments.

28 July 2008

Justice Minister Rachida Dati has unveiled a package of reforms to ease the growing prison population – which has been criticised by a UN body.

In July the number of people in prisons hit a new record of 64,250, according to official figures – with only 50,000 available spots in the countries 200 jails.

The reforms, which include greater use of electronic tags and a relaxation in the way some penalties are applied, have already been criticised by the group Observatoire International des Prisons (OIP).

If passed, the bill would allow some criminals to choose to be imprisoned at home and would also allow greater access to telephones, the right to vote and help with setting up a business.

OIP spokesman Patrick Marest said the bill, which has already been delayed, should be investigated by an independent commission.

A Socialist Party spokesman said the reforms did not deal with prisoners’ health, reintegration into society or poverty.

In an interview in Le Monde Ms Dati said: “Overpopulation is a reality.

“It doesn’t do to tackle the problem upside down. Firstly we must ensure the security of the French people and secondly punish criminals.

“There is a virtue to imprisonment; the certainty of the punishment is dissuasive.”

Ms Dati said the reforms would look to aid rehabilitation. She said 12,000 electronic tags would be brought in and set a date of 2012 to end overpopulation in prison with the creation of 13.500 new places.

The reforms will be debated in the autumn.

The UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concern about overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons and France’s treatment of refugees.

It has also asked France to re-examine a new law under which people deemed a threat to society can be kept in prison, possibly for the rest of their lives, even after they have served out their full sentence.

It "noted with concern" that many refugees and would-be immigrants were held in "inappropriate premises" in airports and elsewhere and criticised the lack of investigations into mistreatment of people held in these places.

The committee said it was worried by the "overcrowding and poor conditions that reign" in prisons in France.


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