France: "a change of tactics"

Can the issue of overcrowding in French prisons be resolved?

On 30 January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found the material conditions and inhumane and degrading treatment in French prisons to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR called for France to resolve these structural issues and to adopt “general measures aimed at eliminating overcrowding and improving the material conditions of detention”.

The National Human Rights Advisory Commission (Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme, CNCDH) is an independent government watchdog in France that works to safeguard human rights. Two years after the ECHR’s verdict, the Commission has adopted an opinion on the effectiveness of fundamental rights in prison 1.

Arnaud Gaillard is a sociologist and has been a member of the board of directors for the French section of the International Prison Observatory (Observatoire international des prisons, OIP) since 2014. He has also sat on the National Human Rights Advisory Commission since 2019. He is a co-rapporteur for the CNCDH’s opinion on the effectiveness of fundamental rights in prison. Prison Insider asked him three questions.

  1. Opinion on the effectiveness of fundamental rights in prison from the report on solutions to prison overcrowding and alternatives to incarceration can be found here(In French only). 

The French government relieved overcrowding in prisons on health grounds. But these exceptional circumstances would not last.

No government policy has ever managed to rectify the issue of overcrowding, regardless of the capacity of France’s penitentiary establishments.

France may be lagging behind when it comes to prison overcrowding, but that does not have to be the case.