Contact with the outside world

All individuals, remand prisoners or convicts, have visitation rights to see their family and immediate circle. Visits are allowed after a permit has been issued, and a meeting has been booked by telephone or on a computer terminal. Malfunctions have been observed due to computerized errors, defective equipment and the transfers of individuals. Visiting days, times and frequency are set by each establishment. Family members are not always well informed about visitation modalities. A request for a visitation permit can be refused. Since May 2016, it is possible to appeal against such a refusal.

Visitation rights are compromised by the accessibility of establishments. The financial cost of travel, geographic remoteness of some prisons, and absence of public transport constitute large constraints for visiting families.

The procedures for searching prisoners and their family members also restricts visits. Prisoners are known to refuse visits from family members, in order to not subject them to visiting procedures.

Remand prisoners must be allowed three visits per week, with one visit per week for convicts.

Generally, prison visits last from 30 to 45 minutes in remand prisons, and one hour in detention centres. The physical layout varies considerably, with either common rooms or individual booths being available. Forty-five family visiting rooms operate in 12 correctional facilities, which began from the 1st of January 2015. These are small rooms that ensure confidentiality and intimacy, and can vary in size from 12 to 15 m2. Prisoners, remand as well as convicts, may receive their family in these rooms for a maximum duration of 6 hours.

Intimate visiting units (UVF), which are 2-3 roomed apartments, allow for prolonged family visits from 6 to 72 hours. There are 85 and are accessible, from the 1st of January 2015, in 26 facilities. Their limited number leads the administration to prioritize advantaged individuals, which affects the mechanism’s effectiveness. Delays of several months sometimes occur between the completion of work, and use of the new UVFs.

Prisoners are allowed to marry during their confinement. However, the IPW’s French section (OIP-SF) noted, in June 2015, the situation of a couple whose union was opposed by the sentence enforcement judge and the public prosecutor.

Paper and a pen are provided upon arrival into detention. Prisoners have to pay for stamps to send mail. Modalities for sending and receiving mail are set by the officers, who are responsible for mail supervision.

Mail sent and received by prisoners can be read, except for those exchanged with:

  • The general inspector of confinement centres (CGLPL)
  • Certain independent administrative authorities (rights defender, president of the National Commission of Informatics and Liberty, president of the Commission for Access to Administrative Documents, etc.)
  • Certain judicial authorities (State Council, Secretariat General of the European Council, president and members of the Court of Justice of the European Union, etc.)
  • Chaplains
  • Solicitors

The facility can hold back mail in the case of a security violation. Limited data is available on the pervasiveness of controls.

Mail to and from prisoners is communicated to the judicial authority.

Prisoners are permitted to call a limited set of phone numbers, included in a list that has been pre-approved by the administration. Prisoners cannot receive phone calls. Remand prisoners are subject to the judicial authority’s authorization. Authorities can listen to conversations, with certain exceptions (rights defenders, general inspector of confinement centres, or a solicitor).

Modalities for accessing telephones remain complicated.Telephone booths are located in exercise yards or building hallways and are not available outside of opening hours. Confidentiality is almost never guaranteed. The high cost of communications constitutes a barrier to family ties, notably with regard to overseas calls.

Although strictly prohibited, cell phones are part of daily life in prisons, which results in trafficking and numerous disciplinary sanctions.

The law provides for the adjustment of sentences while they are being served, to take into account the development of a convict’s personality in prison.

Certain sentence adjustments are automatic in keeping with certain sentence reductions (although a suspension might be considered). Others are subject to certain criteria, such as conditional release (LC), electronic tagging (PSE), semi-custodial regime (SL), or even outside placement (PE).Each of these measures is governed by its own procedures. Sentence adjustments are examined by the sentence adjustment jurisdictions. When they are granted, sentence adjustments are predominantly based on the existence of employment, housing, professional training or family ties.

Ad hoc adjustments are also possible for two specific populations, severely ill individuals and, since the law enacted on the 15th of April 2014, pregnant women. Confinement can be avoided under certain conditions, and in compliance with a specific procedure.

It is estimated that approximately 80% of individuals are released from prison at the end of their sentence, without any sentence adjustments. In 2014, out of 87, 275 prison releases, less than 8, 000 conditional releases had been granted; approximately 2,200 outside placements and 4, 200 semi-custodial regimes had also been ordered.

Nevertheless, sentence individualization remains a legislative priority, as demonstrated by law enacted on the 15th of August 2014. This law introduces the so-called ‘penal constraint sentence’, as well as release under constraint. Penal constraint seeks to provide an alternative penal sanction to incarceration. It has been in effect since the 1st of October 2014. Release under constraint was introduced in order to systematize progressive releases from prison. It has been in effect since the 1st of January 2015. Adoption of both measures has been slow. Only 1,054 penal constraints were ordered during 2015.The exact number of releases under constraint is unknown, because the prison administration has not installed the adequate statistical tools.

Post-sentence preventive detention allows an individual to be kept in detention, after the sentence has been served, on the grounds of the individual’s alleged “dangerousness”. The General Inspector of Confinement Services (CGLPL) has declared its support, on several occasions, for its abolition, as exemplified by its opinion on the 5th of November 2015.

In theory, the facility’s rules and regulations, which amount to bona fide internal laws, are available to all prisoners. In practice, they are often difficult to obtain. The rules and regulations are often still obsolete or incomplete in 2015, despite important updating efforts consecutive to enactment of the prison law.

Legal access points exist in the vast majority of prisons. The individuals working there are authorized to intervene in all judicial matters, with the exception of those related to the individual’s prison situation. These structures remain very heterogeneous, both with regard to their organisation (staffed once a day, week, or month) and their independence.

A free confidential, legal and social information number can be called from all prisons (99#110 from confinement, 01, 43, 72, 98, 41 from outside). It is staffed by the ARAPEJ-CASP association with the helpline being available from Monday to Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, without interruption.

Prisoners retain their right to vote unless the judicial authority has deprived them of this right. It is exercised by means of a power of attorney or the granting of leave. In practice, this right is rarely exercised and leave is rarely granted. No ballot boxes are placed inside facilities during elections.

Recourses against the administration are not easily quantifiable due to pressures and difficulties in accessing the procedure, as well as the lack of available statistics. They exist, in particular, thanks to associations for the defence of human rights such as International Prison Watch (OIP).

The French National Preventive Mechanism (MNP) is called the General Inspector of Confinement Centres (CGLPL). It was enacted into law, on the 30th of October 2007, prior to France’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the 18th of December 2002.

The CGLPL ensures that individuals deprived of their freedom are treated with humanity and respect, for their inherent dignity as human beings.

Adeline Hazan, who holds this post, was appointed in July 2014 for six years. She succeeded Jean-Marie Delarue, the first mandate holder appointed in June 2008.

The CGLP is an independent administrative authority. The position is irrevocable and cannot be renewed.

The general inspector’s team comprises of:

  • A Secretary General
  • 20 full-time inspectors
  • 20 external members who provide their support, as inspectors, on an intermittent or continuous basis
  • 7 inspectors in charge of referrals
  • A 5-member administrative team

In 2015, the inspectors visited 160 facilities. Over the past 8 years, 976 facilities have been inspected, during 1,102 visits. These were out of a total of 4,644 confinement centres (correctional facilities, police and gendarmerie custody cells, psychiatric hospitals and administrative holding centres). The budget allocated to CGLPL amounted to 4.79 million euros, in 2015.

Any case involving the violation of a confined person’s fundamental rights, or any situation related to the conditions of confinement can be submitted to the institution. A prisoner, the prisoner’s family, as well as associations, correctional officers and public authorities can submit a case to the institution. It can also investigate cases on its own initiative.

It retains all latitude with regard to organizing visits. It addresses reports, which are made public, to the relevant authorities. It issues recommendations, and provides an annual activity report to the president of the republic and parliament. Associations engaged in defending human rights maintain close ties with this institution, which benefits from substantial funding.

Submissions are made by post to:
Mme La Contrôleure générale BP 10301 – 75 921 Paris Cedex 19

Other external controls

The ‘Rights Defender’ is another control mechanism. Members of parliament have visitation rights. A law enacted on the 17th of April 2015, allows them to be accompanied by journalists. The Establishment Assessment Committee and the Inspection of Penitentiary Services also carry out visits.