Daily life

All prisoners are entitled to spend at least one hour a day in the open air


The prison service offers activities to prisoners


Prisoners can take part in a number of activities that vary from one facility to another. Since 2009, prisoners have been obliged to participate in at least one. Access to an outside walking area is a right (usually 1.5 hours a day), although it is supervised.
There are a number of activities available but not enough to meet demand. In general, each activity can accommodate up to ten people. The prison service estimates that, on average, each prisoner participates in an activity for 1.5 hours a day, in addition to walking outdoors.
The criteria for registration are unclear and must be approved by the prison service. There are also practical constraints that prevent the activities from taking place (lack of rooms, budget limitations, difficulties in informing everyone, etc.). Similar observations were made with respect to sport.

There are designated places for physical activities and sports


Nearly 300 sport instructor guards (2015 data) and outside help from the prison service’s partner federations contribute. This works out at around one guard for over 200 prisoners.

There are designated places for cultural activities


Since 2009, prisoners have been obliged to participate in at least one.

Prison facilities have a library


Each prison has a library that is partnered with municipal and regional libraries.

Work is compulsory


Less than 30% of the prison population is employed.

Number and percentage of prisoners who work

28.4 % (19,896)
/ Prison administration

Variation in the number of prisoners who work


All prisoners are allowed to work


Most of the time, labour laws do not apply to those in prison. For instance, there is no minimum wage and no work contracts.

Maximum daily/weekly working hours are set, including at least one day of rest


Prisoners are paid for their work


Salaries are

significantly below the national minimum wage

The minimum wage provided by the Prison Act varies from one-fifth to one-third of the minimum wage (salaire minimum (SMIC)) for service jobs. It can be as much as just under half of the SMIC when prisoners work for private firms or for the SEP.

Prisoners are paid on a piecework basis


Their income is subject to social contributions


Health and safety standards applicable outside are respected in prison


Prisoners have the right to join trade unions


There are three sources of employment in prison:

  • General services, which refers to the work done by prisoners to keep the prison operating (maintenance, food services, cleaning of public areas). 13.4% of prisoners worked in general services in 2016.
  • Production areas, which are operated by the Prison Industrial Management Service (Régie industrielle des établissements pénitentiaires (RIEP)) and managed by the Prison Employment Service (Service de l’emploi pénitentiaire (SEP)). This service organises the production of goods and services by prisoners and ensures their sale and distribution (computing, computer-aided manufacturing, printing, woodwork, garment manufacturing, metalwork, agriculture, etc.). 1.5% of prisoners worked for the SEP in 2016. 25 out of 186 prisons have a total of 46 workshops.
  • Concession work, which refers to prisoners working for private companies that set up production areas inside prisons. These usually entail simple manual operations (stuffing envelopes, packaging, etc.). 13.2% of prisoners worked for concessions in 2016.

Prisoners can work independently or for an employer. The above-mentioned forms of employment only give access to a job to one-quarter of prisoners.

Prison work can have the following benefits: prisoners can earn an income to use in the canteen or to support their family, they can leave their cell and stay active, and they get the opportunity to meet other prisoners. One prisoner described it thus: “When you work, it gives you a totally new perspective. You can bond with other people, sometimes even with non-prisoners. Work has really helped me deal with my sentence”.

The Prison Act of 24 November 2009 provides for the implementation of a contract and the end of piecework, but these provisions have not yet been fully applied. On 1 January 2017, the least-qualified positions were paid €1.95 an hour. The Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (Contrôleure générale des lieux de privation de liberté (CGLPL)) issued an advisory in February 2017 denouncing the lack of respect for basic standards. In the same advisory, she underscored the many legal deficiencies of prison work that constitute human rights abuses. In a 2017 advisory, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights recommended that the right to a work contract be applied during detention. It also called for the creation of a national agency for prisoner employment that would both act as the employer and seek out contractors.

Education is available for all prisoners


The prison service implements measures to fight illiteracy


While efforts have been made to address illiteracy, they have not been applied consistently.

Prisoners are allowed to pass diplomas and entry examinations


Vocational training is provided


Vocational training is available for all prisoners


Distance courses are available


Prisoners have access to computers

in some establishments

Internet access is banned in prison. Access to online information (individual requests or for training purposes) is lacking and is subject to prisons’ security restrictions.

In general, prisoners are poorly educated. In 2016, one in five prisoners (20.2%) failed reading tests, one in two had no school leaving qualification (49%) and more than three-quarters only had vocational training (81%).

Prisoners are allowed to keep themselves informed regularly on public affairs


Prisoners have access to a television

yes, purchased or rented

Access to information (newspapers, television, etc.) is guaranteed unless it affects the security of the prisons. There is a charge for these services.

Prisoners have access to a radio


Prisoners have access to the press


The prison service allows access to Internet


Access to online information (individual requests or for training purposes) is lacking and is subject to prisons’ security restrictions. The gap between the restrictions imposed by the prison services and technological developments is glaring. This makes it difficult for prisoners to reintegrate into society, especially those serving long sentences.

Prisoners are free to practice their religion and follow their beliefs


The principle of religious neutrality guarantees freedom of religion and falls under the responsibility of the prison service.

Dedicated places of worship are available

in most establishments

Religious services do not always take place in planned and well-equipped spaces. Older facilities in particular do not have such dedicated spaces.

There are chaplains in the prisons


The prison service remunerates the chaplains


Catholic and Protestant chaplains make up more than half of the salaried chaplains, with Muslims about one-third. There is a great deal of disparity between the religions in terms of resources, salaries (some chaplains perform shift work and some do not, some receive supplementary payments by their religion and some do not) and the number of approvals issued. This makes it difficult to practice some religions, especially Islam and those that require regular practice.

Spiritual needs are not always met and prisoners are not always permitted to keep their religious articles with them. Furthermore, few prisons cater to the special food requirements mandated by some religions.

According to the 2017 CGLPL report, there is no Muslim chaplain at Cherbourg Prison, meaning that Muslims can only interact with Catholic chaplains. Guards also have problems obtaining Muslim religious articles, such as the Koran and prayer mats.

Some chaplains, namely those of the Muslim faith, have pointed out that in trying to prevent radicalisation in prison, the prison service has made certain expectations of chaplains that do not fall within their remit and may even be prejudicial.
Following a decree on 5 May 2017, future chaplains of all religions are required to receive training in civics, a move that not all chaplains support. While one Christian pastor stressed that “the fight against radicalisation is not our responsibility”, Hassan el-Alaoui Talibi, the chief Muslim prison chaplain in France, maintained that it “will be good for our chaplains”. On the whole, the chaplains said that they should have been consulted first and they also questioned the training methods.

Individuals or organisations from the outside are allowed to participate in prison activities


Authorisations for external actors to take part in prison activities are provided by


Outside assistance comes in many forms: visits, sport, cultural, and religious activities, teaching, material support, legal aid, preventive health care, etc. Some activities take place outside of the prisons, such as welcoming families and loved ones waiting in the visiting rooms and the activities surrounding release (reintegration into the workplace, housing, etc.).

In 2017, the prison service signed agreements with 23 associations, on a national scale. The agreements covered different domains: legal aid, visits, preventive health care, reintegration, etc. Most of them have financial protocols in the form of annual grants, the amount of which varies from year to year.

These programmes are usually run by volunteers.

There is also a network of associations at the local level. Almost every facility has a network of associations that provides assistance, with agreements signed with the prison service concerned. The number of external personnel varies greatly from city to city and entry clearance procedures are also highly variable.

Prisoners are allowed to make use of financial resources


Financial resources are accessible

in an account

Destitute prisoners receive financial or in-kind support


Management may decide to allot a sum of money to so-called prisoners in need. The Code of Criminal Procedure defines these “persons without sufficient resources” in its criteria for their bank account funds. The threshold is fixed at €50 a month. This type of aid varies greatly from one facility to another. It is usually given in kind (clothing, refilling toiletry kits, etc.), but may also be monetary.

Financial aid for prisoners in need is sometimes provided by local volunteer associations.

Prisoners have the right of association


Prisoners are, in fact, not permitted to meet or associate, even though these rights are not taken away at the point of conviction. Some meetings are allowed, but any collective movement, even peaceful, is subject to disciplinary action.

Prisoners have the right to vote


Prisoners keep the right to vote unless it has been removed by a judicial authority as part of their sentence.