Special populations

Female prisoners

3.5 % (2,393)
/ Prison administration

Different types of penal institutions hold women :

  • penal institutions exclusively for women
  • units exclusively for women They are dispersed throughout 58 facilities. 2,458 places are reserved for them throughout the system. The female prisoner population density varies from one facility to another.
    Most of the women are incarcerated inspecific sections of prisons that are mainly for men.

There are three exclusively dedicated facilities:

  • Rennes Penitentiary Centre
  • Fresnes detention centre
  • Fleury-Mérogis detention centre

The guards are female, but management personnel may be male.

Overpopulation affects female units in some of the detention centres. At sud-francilien de Réau prison, there are 67 women for 89 places, while at Nîmes detention centre there are 51 women for 24 places, that is an occupation rate of 213%.

There is an effective separation between men and women


Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted


The prison staff is

mostly female

The guards are female, but management personnel may be male.

Searches are conducted by a female staff member.

Pregnant women are housed in specific units or cells


The legislation provides for a sentence adjustment for pregnant women or women with young children


Pregnant women or mothers in prison may request a suspended sentence for family reasons. The number of women benefitting from this measure is unknown.

Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care


In spite of the measures implemented to ensure that pregnant prisoners receive adapted medical care (obligatory prenatal follow-up, the provision of prison escorts for medical procedures), gynaecological exams, and sometimes deliveries, are done with the presence of prison staff. This situation sometimes leads to the refusal of care.

Childbirth takes place in

outside care facilities

Security staff is prohibited from entering the room during labour and childbirth


The use of instruments of restraint is forbidden during labour and childbirth


Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until 18 months of age

This period may be extended in the event of the mother’s imminent release. There are some 60 children born during their mothers’ incarceration every year.

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


(the age of majority is 18)

Minimum age of imprisonment for minors

13 years old

Their imprisonment remains exceptional below 16 years old.

Incarcerated minors

1.1 % (772)
/ Prison administration

Variation in the number of incarcerated minors


Their number increases, between 2015 and 2017, by 9.1%.

Ministry in charge of incarcerated minors

ministry of Justice

Under the Act of 2 February 1945, children and young people under 18 are subject to a special justice system. The Juvenile Judge, Juvenile Court, and the Assize Court for minors follow a different process than those for adults (taking into account the mitigation of responsibility, closed door hearings, etc.).

On 1 January 2018, 352 minors were housed in six detention facilities for minors (établissements pénitentiaires pour mineurs (EPM)); the others are dispersed among the 47 juvenile units (quartiers pour mineurs (QM)).
The assignation of the juveniles to the different centres must take into account their interests, such as the place of residence, their education needs, and the proximity to the court in charge of the dossier.

Figures on minors in prison are published

on a regular basis, every three months

Minors in prison are separated from adults


The separation of minors from adults is not always effective.

The law provides for single cell accommodation for minors


The detention regime in the QMs needs to be adjusted in order to prevent any contact with adults. Juveniles are usually housed in single cells, but this is not always the case, especially when there is overpopulation.

The schooling of minors is compulsory


Schooling is mandatory until age 16, as on the outside.

The law forbids solitary confinement for minors


Solitary confinement is possible under the same conditions as for adults.

The detention system in the EPMs is a mixture of repression and education. Group events (cultural and sport activities) are held, and sometimes are deemed to be excessive. Minors are usually housed in single cells.

The Judicial Youth Protection (Protection judiciaire de la jeunesse) provides teaching staff to the EPMs and QMs. The other staff members (guards, health) are, in principle, specially trained. Guards assigned to QMs do not always receive specialized training to deal with minors. Prison and teaching staff have reported problems they encounter when there is overcrowding. Schooling is mandatory until age 16, as on the outside.

As of 1 January 2018, the number of minors detained was as follows:

  • 89 minors under 16 years of age
  • 683 minors between 16 and 18 years of age.
  • 63.8% of incarcerated minors are untried.

The EPMs are facilities for minors under the age of 18 and have an average capacity for 60 persons, while the QMs are juvenile units into adult facilities. The penitentiary system counts 1,151 places reserved for minors; the average occupancy rate is 66%.
The experience shows that these facilities are difficult to administer once the occupancy rate surpasses 50%.

Young girls can only be admitted in three EPMs. In 2017, the Judicial Youth Protection Directorate (Direction de la protection judiciaire de la jeunesse (PJJ) envisaged reducing territorial disparities of the detention centres for young girls.
Minors cannot be sentenced for life, except under extraordinary circumstances.

Number and percentage of foreign prisoners

21.6 %

/ Prison administration

Foreign prisoners can be assisted by an interpreter

in some cases

Foreign prisoners are entitled to legal aid


Illegal residency is no longer considered an indictable offence per se, but its consequences may be.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to remain in the country after having served their sentence

under certain circumstances

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated


Even though there is no obligation to group foreigners in specific units, the practice of non-institutional and non-generalized “ethnic sorting” persists. It leads to a division within quarters based on nationality or origin, real or supposed, on the sole criteria of a person skin colour. Some prisoners request to be with a cellmate with whom they can communicate.
Foreigners are often victims of discrimination when it comes to obtaining work, sentence adjustments and in maintaining family ties, and they are even more vulnerable when they cannot speak French. All requests must be made in writing, which is not always possible for foreign prisoners. In theory, an interpreter must assist them during the entire procedure, including the disciplinary one, but there are not enough interpreters, or they may even be unavailable.

The issues associated with the right of residence also contribute to daily stresses of prison life. Incarceration is an obstacle in terms of undertaking the necessary steps, which have become very complicated.
The process of obtaining a residency permit requires obligatory meetings in the prefecture. Prisoners are required to apply for temporary absences, which are often not granted. Interviews for asylum seekers may now be carried out inside the prisons with audio-visual methods of communication - complete with all the difficulty that these methods entail, including: lack of confidentiality, mistrust, interpretation, etc. Persons ordered to leave French soil usually benefit from a 48-hour appeal period, but the process for people in detention is complex.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

10 years

There are specific prison facilities for long-term prisoners


Life sentences are banned


People serving a life sentence

0.7 % (489)
/ Prison administration

Life sentences are for the most serious crimes (certain kinds of murders and terrorism).

There are specific prison facilities for life-sentenced prisoners


People sentenced for criminal offences are usually sent to maximum security prisons, facilities where detention is largely based on security.

“Unconditional imprisonment” excludes the possibility of adjusting a sentence for a period of 18 years. This detention can be shortened or extended, under certain conditions, for a maximum of 22 years.
Life imprisonment without possibility of release is the most severe sentence under French law and is subject to an unlimited, unconditional period of detention. Three particularly serious crimes (certain kinds of murders and terrorism) lead to a “real” life sentence.
A possibility of release exists, in practice, for people condemned to life imprisonment without possibility of release. The article 720-4 provides for the possibility of re-examining the case after thirty years of incarceration. The judge’s decision may only be taken after a panel of three experts chosen from the list of experts accredited to the Court of Cassation has stated its opinion as to the danger of the convicted person.

Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners


Data collection about prisoners’ minority or indigenous background is allowed


Minority or indigenous backgrounds are criteria for specific cell or unit assignment


Even though there is no obligation to group foreigners in specific units, the practice of non-institutional and non-generalized “ethnic sorting” persists. It leads to a division within quarters based on nationality or origin, real or supposed, on the sole criteria of a person skin colour. Some prisoners request to be with a cellmate with whom they can communicate.

People of certain religious or ethnic groups are not subject to any particular detention regime.

The prosecution or imprisonment of a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned


LGBTQI+ persons are separated from other prisoners

in most cases

The assigning of trans inmates to prison is based on their marital status. They are often placed in isolated quarters for their own safety. Access to work and other activities is difficult, if not impossible. The Fleury-Mérogis Prison has a section reserved exclusively for trans inmates, which usually include between 20 to 30 persons. The ACCEPTESS-T Association provides them with support.

The adjustment of their daily life is determined, on a case by case basis, by prison staff.

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

their ID gender

The rules for assigning trans inmates are not always applied. While in prison, LGBTI person are often victims of homophobic or transphobic acts of violence, including: verbal, physical and sexual assaults

Transgender prisoners are entitled to customised searches


Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care


Accessing health services is a major problem. Trans persons do not receive any information on the type of medical care they can get. They receive the same basic medical care as others in the facility.

The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners


Number and percentage of elderly prisoners

3.8 % (2,626)
/ Prison administration

Older prisoners are not divided off into groups in the facilities or into specific units. The facilities are not designed to accommodate them: the pace of daily prison routine and its organisation are sources of anxiety.

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. Some seniors have to spend the rest of their days in prison, with personnel who are neither trained nor have the resources to assist them.

The number of older prisoners increased by six times over the last 25 years.
There appears to be a lack of appropriate activities, limited access to work and little medical care. Doctors have also reported problems with procuring medical equipment. Older prisoners find it difficult to receive human assistance and are often forced to get help from other inmates.

Death penalty is abolished

yes, abolished since 1981

The last execution took place on 10 September 1977.