Contact with the outside world
Contact with the outside world
All prisoners have the right to receive visits
Everyone, whether on remand or convicted, has the right to visits from family members and friends. Visitors must obtain a permit and make an appointment by telephone or online. Requests for a visiting permit may be refused, and an appeal procedure was introduced in May 2016.
People eligible to visit
Prisoners on remand are entitled to three visits per week, and convicted prisoners are allowed one visit a week. Each facility sets its own days and hours. In general, a visit may last between 30 and 45 minutes in remand centres, one hour in prisons and several hours in high-security prisons. Visits can take place in common rooms or individual cubicles.
Prisoners and visitors can meet without physical barriers
Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives
yes, with special requirements provided
Conjugal visits are allowed
Some prisons have family parlours and family visit units (unités de vie familiale (UVF)), which are made available to prisoners at least once every three months as a general rule. The length of the visit depends on the distance the visitor has to travel.
Family parlours measure 12 to 15 m² and are closed to allow privacy and intimacy. Prisoners (whether on remand or convicted) can receive visitors for a maximum of six hours.
The UVFs are two- to three-room apartments, allowing longer family visits of 6 to 72 hours. Because there are so few, the administration puts those who are eligible on a waiting list, thus reducing the effectiveness of the mechanism. Yet new UVFs are sometimes left unused for several months after they have been constructed.
As of 1 January 2018 most prisons did not have family parlours or UVFs: 100 family parlours exist in 27 prisons and 146 UVFs are in use in 45 prisons.
If they provide justification for their request, prisoners may ask to be transferred in order to be nearer their families. The request must be addressed to the prison governor and the procedure is lengthy.
Reception areas for families awaiting parlour visits are set up near the prisons and are run by private organisations and/or service providers. Other organisations focus on maintaining contact between incarcerated parents and their children, and, if necessary, they escort them to the parlours.
The inaccessibility of prisons often makes it difficult to maintain family contact. The cost of travel, the remoteness of some prisons and the lack of public transport constitute real barriers.
The arrangements for mandatory searching of prisoners and their family members and friends are also an obstacle, causing some prisoners to refuse visits in order to spare their visitors the ordeal. Contact with children is another difficult issue. Some people prefer not to let them know about their situation. According to a 2014 study, two out of three parents said that “some, or all, of their children were aware that they were in prison” and half of them said that they never saw their children.
Family members and friends are not always informed about visiting protocols. Difficulties are routinely observed: computer errors, defective equipment, prisoner transfers.
Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail
Prisoners are permitted to correspond freely by mail. In theory, they are supposed to be given a “correspondence kit” when they arrive in prison consisting of paper, envelopes and a pen. They pay for their own stamps.
Mail exchanged is subject to control
Sending and receiving mail is the responsibility of a duly authorised post clerk.
Incoming and outgoing mail may be read, with the exception of correspondence with:
- certain independent administrative authorities (Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (CGLPL)), The Human Rights Defender, chair of the National Commission on Information Technology and Freedoms (Commission nationale informatique et libertés), chair of the Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs), etc.);
- some judicial authorities (Council of State, General Secretariat of the Council of Europe, president and members of the Court of Justice of the European Union, etc.) ;
Prisons may hold back mail for security purposes. There is little information available on this form of control. Untried prisoners’ mail is sent to the judicial authority.
Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail in sealed envelopes
Incoming and outgoing mail may be read, with the exception of correspondence with certain independent administrative authorities (Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (CGLPL)), The Human Rights Defender, chair of the National Commission on Information Technology and Freedoms (Commission nationale informatique et libertés), chair of the Commission on Access to Administrative Documents (Commission d’accès aux documents administratifs), etc.);
- some judicial authorities (Council of State, General Secretariat of the Council of Europe, president and members of the Court of Justice of the European Union, etc.);
- lawyers. Prisons may hold back mail for security purposes. There is little information available on this form of control. Untried prisoners’ mail is sent to the judicial authority.
Confidential mail is often opened and read.
Prisoners are allowed to receive parcels
E-mail exchange is possible
Prisoners are allowed to make external phone calls
Prisoners are allowed to make a limited number of telephone calls to a restricted list of numbers approved in advance by the administration, but they are not permitted to receive telephone calls. Untried prisoners must receive authorisation from the judicial authority.
Prisoners are allowed to call
The phones are located
- in the cells
- in the yard
- in the corridors
It is still difficult to access a telephone. The booths located in the recreation yards and in hallways, and the phone stations are not available outside working hours, and there is hardly ever any privacy.
The cost of phone calls is in line with market prices
High call charges are another barrier, especially for calls to overseas territories and to foreign countries.
Phones calls are wire tapped
Conversations may be tapped, except for those with the Human Rights Defender, the Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (Contrôleur général des lieux de privation de liberté), lawyers, humanitarian centres ((CASP/ARAPEJ helpline (Protestant Social Welfare Centre which now incorporates the Association for Reflection and Action on Prisons and Justice), the Red Cross Prisoners’ Helpline (Croix-Rouge Écoute les Détenus) etc.).
The use of cell phones is authorised
Mobile phone use, although strictly forbidden, is a constant feature of prison life and leads to trafficking and many disciplinary sanctions.