Admission and evaluation
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
There is a reception area for arriving prisoners
in most establishments
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
A prison’s internal regulations are, in theory, available to prisoners. In practice, a full copy is generally kept in the library and is sometimes hard to obtain. An extract from the document is often given to prisoners when entering prison, and from time to time is posted on the walls. Nevertheless, it is often out of date or incomplete.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
in most cases
On 1 January 2017 there were legal assistance advice centres in 158 prisons. Their staff is qualified to intervene on all kinds of legal issues, with the exception of those relating to the prisoner’s sentence itself. The structure varies enormously, both in terms of organisation (available once a day, once a week, or once a month) and in terms of independence.
Prisoners and their family members and friends may call a number to obtain information on legal and social issues. Calls are free, anonymous and confidential, and can be made from all prisons (99#110) and from outside (01 43 72 98 41). The platform is run by the CASP/ARAPEJ organisation and is open Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Deaths in custody are logged in a register
Number of deaths in custody
(last published data)
Number of deaths attributed to suicide
119 committed suicide in prison and 12 outside (hospital, permission to leave…)
A 28-year-old inmate took his life on 28 April, 2019 in the Luynes prison. He had completed three-quarters of his jail term in the psychiatric hospital. According to his lawyer, he was to undergo a mental assessment before his trial. The lawyer intends to file a complaint on behalf of his inmate’s family, to the prison administration and the Ministry of health.
Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
for some deaths
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
Prevention policies have been tried but have failed to reduce the numbers in a significant way.
The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
ratified in 1986
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
If so, the prison service must notify a judicial authority
Number of recorded violent acts between prisoners
Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates
Acts of violence between prisoners are investigated
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
ratified in 2008
An NPM has been established
yes, in 2007
Name of the NPM
Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (CGLPL)
The NPM has come into office
yes, in 2008
The NPM was appointed by
the executive power
Term of office of the NPM
6 years, non-renewable, irrevocable
The NPM reports are made public
Number of visits made by the NPM during the year
without mentioning the other places of deprivation of liberty visited
The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits
The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises
The NPM recommendations are effectively implemented
in some cases
The CGLPL and CNCDH submitted written observations to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in 2018. They argued that the prison conditions in France are contrary to the ECHR Article 3 on the prohibition of torture. They also stated that the current recourses do not prevent these abuses of basic rights.
NPM’s findings are considered to be close to the ones from civil society organisations. Human rights organisations maintain ongoing contact with this highly regarded body.
Penitentiary institutions are subject to other external oversight mechanisms, such as the office of the Human Rights Defender (Défenseur des droits). It intervenes in prisons in pursuit of its four missions: fighting discrimination, defending children’s rights, relations with the administration, and security ethics. Its representatives operate within the prisons. Prisoners and their family members and friends may refer complaints to the Human Rights Defender.
Adeline Hazan was appointed head of this administrative authority in July 2014 for a period of six years. She cannot be removed during her term of office nor can she serve a second term.
The CGLPL may visit prisons throughout French territory at any time. It has wide discretion in how the visits are conducted and it publishes a report and recommendations.
The CGLPL may also be asked to investigate any infringement of the basic rights of prisoners and any issue regarding conditions in the prison. Complaints may be submitted by prisoners, their family members and friends, an organisation, prison staff or public authorities. The CGLPL may also initiate its own investigations
In 2016, inspectors visited 26 prisons and visits averaged 6.19 days each. During the CGLPL’s 9 years in operation, 263 prison visits have been conducted. In 2016 alone, the CGLPL received 2,877 complaints about prisons. Most of them came from prisoners and their family members and friends, and were mainly about transfers, physical conditions, prisoner/staff relations, access to medical care and contact with the outside.
Ms. Hazan has made four recommendations and issued five public opinions since she was appointed.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
Certain sentence adjustments are automatic, as are certain sentence reductions. But these may be overturned by the sentencing judge. Others are subject to specific conditions, such as conditional release (liberation conditionnelle (LC)), electronic surveillance (placement sous surveillance électronique (PSE)), day parole (semi-liberté (SL)), supervised outside placement (placement extérieur (PE)) or even the recently introduced release under constraint (libération sous contrainte). Each of these measures has its own particular procedure.
Sentence adjustments are made by the sentence enforcement body. Decisions are based mainly on the existence of employment, housing, vocational training and family ties.
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
According to the Act, sentences can be adjusted while they are being served, on the basis of the prisoner’s behaviour.
Prisoners can contest a negative decision of sentence adjustment
Specific categories of prisoners are ineligible for sentence adjustment
The law provides for a temporary release system
The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons
Prisoners who become ill may obtain early release if they have a life-threatening condition, or their health situation is too compromised to remain in prison. There were 238 requests for suspended sentences for medical reasons in 2013 and 207 were granted.
The Senate report on the cost of prison health care showed that this measure is not often taken because of the lack of structures to admit people upon their release.
The 15 August 2014 Act provides for non-custodial sentences and for release under constraint. A non-custodial sentence is used as an alternative to imprisonment and release under constraint is a way of making gradual release the norm. These two measures are slow to be implemented.
The changes made to the rules for allotting places in emergency housing in 2016 make it difficult for people who are putting together a conditional release application to find housing prior to release1. In the Paris region people who are homeless or have no one to stay with cannot benefit from conditional release.
Ad hoc adjustments are possible for two specific groups: those who are seriously ill and pregnant women. Detention may be avoided under certain conditions according to a specific procedure, known as suspension of sentence.
Prisoners at end-of-life can benefit from conditional release. Another sentence adjustment available for medical reasons allows prisoners with a life-threatening prognosis to spend their final days with loved ones. These procedures are not always adopted, mostly, because of the lack of housing upon release.
The Senate report on the cost of prison health care re-iterated social workers are responsible for finding housing upon release, especially in residential care facilities for dependent seniors. In practice, the latter are often reluctant to accept released inmates.