Two opposing trends highlighted in 2015.

The law on the 15th of August 2014, reaffirms the principle of individualized sentencing consisting of two key measures: “Penal constraint1” (contrainte pénale) and “release under constraint2” (la libération sous contrainte). The development of community sanctions (outside of prison) are progressive steps, even though their implementation is slow. The 2014 law also intends to eliminate a large number of automatic provisions (minimum sentences, automatic revocation of a suspended sentence, the prolonged delay in processing sentence adjustments for repeat offenders, etc.). Access to media has also improved: journalists can now visit the prisons with parliamentarians.

Prison over-population continues to grow, in spite of the increase in the number of available places. Criminal policy has become tighter since the 2015 attacks in January and November. The debate is concerned with combating radical Islam. Permits for temporary leave are being put on hold from the autumn of 2015 but they are unanimously recognized as being essential for the preparation of releasing prisoners.

Other problems persist: detention conditions, modes of access and pay for work performed, training needs, contact with loved ones and the heavy toll detention has upon them. Further issues include preparing prisoners for release, lack of personnel and the decrease of public funding into organizations working on re-integration.

  1. The penal constraint is a type of probationary sentence to replace incarceration; the subject must abide by a certain number of restrictions and is under continuous supervision, but is not in prison (Loi N°. 2014-896, arts, 19-23.

  2. Release under constraint is a new early release procedure, which can be granted by the sentence enforcement judge (Juge d’application des peines). It might be applied when the offender has served two thirds of his sentence. 

Country population


Type of government

Semi-presidential parliamentary republic

Human Development Index