Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
yes, every three months
The administration publishes quarterly statistics on the prison population. These statistics were monthly until May 2019. The key figures of the prison administration are published once per year.
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
Between 16 March and 26 April, the number of people in custody fell due to measures taken in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The director of penal administration reported a drop of more than 11,000 prisoners. He detailed the measures which have brought this about, notably house arrest at the end of a sentence, and granting a reduction of sentences in exceptional cases. Some observers also cited a slowdown in judicial activity and a low number of prisoners being taken into custody.
Variation in the number of prisoners
0.8 % increase
The prison population has increased again. On 1 October it reached 61,102, an increase of 2,400 in three months. Rates of occupation greatly exceed 100%, and vary considerably from one prison to another, eg. 176 % at Bordeaux-Gradignan prison, 188 % at Nîmes prison, and 213 % at Roche-Sur-Yon prison.
The director of penal administration reported that ‘by 26 April, the prison population had fallen by 11,961 since 16 March’. This drop was due to lower number of prisoners going into custody and measures for managing prison sentences to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Number of people serving non-custodial sentences
Variation in the number of people serving non-custodial sentences
The number of persons serving non-custodial sentences increased by 9.1 % between 2019 and 2020.
Variation in the incarceration rate
Average length of imprisonment (in months)
The drop in prisoner numbers is considered to be insufficient. The national secretary of the Union of Magistrates notes that detention centres are still recording occupancy rates in excess of 100%: ‘there are still prisons where inmates sleep on the floor, two or three to a cell’.
“In the space of a few weeks, health measures have led to a reduction in the prison population, with 10,000 fewer prisoners. This unprecedented drop in numbers is regarded as insufficient by certain observers . On 20 April 2020, the National Union of Prison Governors (SNDP-CFDT) sent an open letter to the president of the Republic, stating that “it will no longer be possible to claim that one prisoner per cell is unachievable”.
Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities
This overpopulation is mainly seen in detention centres, where untried prisoners and people condemned to short sentences are held. In theory, these two populations are separated. This overpopulation also affects overseas facilities.
See the map
The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding
The European Court of Human Rights condemned France 17 times due to the conditions of detention, which violated Article 3 of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
On 30 January 2020, in a judgement considered ‘historic’ by observers, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against France. The Court decided that Article 3 had been violated (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) due to poor conditions of detention. The Court ordered that the French authorities “must put an end to overcrowding in prisons and to degrading conditions of detention” (See press release). It noted that there is a “structural problem” and made recommendations on how to remedy it.
Between 2015 and 2018, a number of appeals were made by 32 prisoners held in the following prisons: Baie-Mahault (Guadeloupe), Ducos (Martinique), Fresnes, Nice, Nîmes, and Fa’aa Nuutania (French Polynesia). The European Court made a joint judgement “to broaden the scope” and ordered France to compensate the plaintiffs for damage suffered. The penalty is in excess of €500,000.
A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding
In 2017, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture published the following report: “The situation was of particular concern at Fresnes and Nîmes prisons, where the overcrowding and the lack of activities were compounded by serious problems with heating, damp, and infestations”. The CPT called on the French authorities to take urgent measures to address these problems, which could be considered as inhuman and degrading treatment.
Name of authority in charge of the prison service
Ministry of Justice
Budget of the prison service
dollars - 3.75 billion euros
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
The private sector is responsible for the day-to-day operations in 58 prisons: food services, accommodations, training, work, maintenance. For the past several years it has also been in charge of family visits. The penitentiary administration is responsible for the management, the surveillance, the registry (follow-up of imprisonment), probation and re-integration.
The prison administration is part of the Ministry of Justice. It consists of a central administration (Direction de l’administration pénitentiaire), decentralised services (nine inter-regional prison boards and one authority for overseas départements and territories), integration and probation services, a prison employment service and the National Prison Administration Training School (École nationale de l’administration pénitentiaire).
The detention regimes vary by institution and sentencing category. Most institutions fall into one of three regimes:
• an open regime, honour system or autonomous system is one in which inmate are free to move about within the lodging area or go to activities
• a semi-open regime or general system is one in which moving about is restricted to certain hours
• a closed regime, strict regime or controlled regime is one in which inmates are confined to their cells and may only leave if a guard opens the door for them.
Semi-custodial facilities accommodate inmates admitted into outside or day placement systems. The prisoner may leave the prison during the day to practise a professional activity or take classes or training courses.
Blocks for adjusted sentences may accommodate sentenced individuals who are subject to day placement measures or an exterior placement as well as sentenced individuals whose remaining prison time is less than a year, in order to allow them to complete a reintegration plan.
Recent construction contracts have been carried out by public-private partnerships (PPP). Even if they represent short-term savings for the public sector, the decision to engage PPPs is often questioned. In December 2017, the Court of Auditors presented a report (here) in which it strongly recommended that the future use of PPPs for justice-related construction projects be avoided. In the report, the Court of Auditors states that the extra cost of changes made during construction, as well as the inflexibility of PPPs, stalls the public prison service’s construction projects, which in turn leads them to question the savings incurred through the use of private contractors.
There are two types of correctional facilities:
• Jails house people who are awaiting trial or sentencing or who have received sentences of two years or less. There are 82 jails, as well as 50 sections housing inmates in these categories within larger correctional facilities.
• Prisons for people who have been sentenced, including:.
- 55 prisons, which house at least two units for different types of prisoners.
- 25 detention centres and 42 sections.
- 6 maximum-security prisons and 7 sections.
- 10 semi-custodial facilities and 20 sections (QSL).
- 9 sections for adjusted sentences .
A national assessment centre has three sites: Fresnes (capacity of 56), southern Paris (capacity of 231) et Lille-Annœullin (capacity of 30). Six penitentiary establishments for minors are spread out over the nation. The national public health facility in Fresnes has a capacity of 84 individuals.
Total number of prison facilities
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities
Correctional facilities are spread out over the entire national territory.
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
All newly constructed institutions are on the outskirts of cities or far from them. La Santé prison in Paris is an exception.
The bus stops near Fleury-Mérogis Prison in the department of Essonne have been suspended since the beginning of 2020. On 11 September, a petition was started by the relatives of prisoners to get the stops reinstated. They have questioned the actions of the local government authority Cœur d’Essonne and the transport operator Keolis Meyer: “Suspending these bus stops has made prisoners even more socially isolated: they were almost exclusively used by families of prisoners for visits, and also by organisations offering support to prisoners”.
Number of prison guards (FTE)
Guard to prisoner ratio
1 : 2,8
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)
The major unions are: Force ouvrière (FO), Syndicat pénitentiaire des surveillants (SPS), UFAP-UNSA and CGT-pénitentiaire.
Prison guards receive training at the National School of Prison Administration (École nationale de l’administration pénitentiaire). The duration of training is 6 months (formerly 8 months), followed by a 12-month internship in a correctional setting. Applicants to the program must be at least 19 years old and have earned a secondary school diploma or a recognised equivalent.
Entry-level guards are paid €1,567.