Special populations

Number and percentage of female prisoners

3.3 % (2,057)
/ Prison administration

Variation in the number of female prisoners


There were 2,511 female prisoners in 2020.

/ Prison administration

Percentage of untried female prisoners

38.5 % (791)

Different types of penal institutions hold women :

  • penal institutions exclusively for women
  • units exclusively for women

Most of the women are incarcerated in specific sections of prisons that are mainly for men. There are two exclusively dedicated facilities :

  • Rennes Penitentiary Centre
  • Versailles remand centre

They are dispersed throughout 59 facilities. The female prisoner population density varies from one facility to another. Overcrowding is a problem in the women’s quarters of some remand prisons.

  • Prisons and blocks for women are not as overcrowded as those for men. On 1 January 2021, the average occupation rate for women’s prisons and blocks was 80%. However, overcrowding is an issue in certain blocks, such as in Toulouse and Perpignan, where it is 140%, and Bordeaux, where it is almost 170%.

    / Observatoire international des prisons - section française

There is an effective separation between men and women


Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted


Women who have been charged and those who have been convicted are not detained separately in remand centres. They are in prisons for convicted prisoners.

The prison staff is

mostly female

The guards are female, but management personnel may be male.

Searches are conducted by a female staff member.

The Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty stated in a notice on 18 February 2016 a very limited choice of feminine hygiene products, in particular tampons or sanitary napkins and intimate wash.

Pregnant women are housed in specific units or cells


Nursery sections with a few dedicated places are available at approximately thirty facilities.

The legislation provides for a sentence adjustment for pregnant women or women with young children


Ad-hoc arrangements are possible for pregnant women. Detention can be avoided under certain conditions and according to a specific procedure, the suspended sentence. It is possible for individuals to request a suspended sentence for family reasons. The number of women who have benefited from this measure has not been provided.

Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care


All steps must be taken to ensure that pregnant prisoners receive appropriate medical care (compulsory prenatal monitoring, arrangements for prison escorts in the context of medical extractions). Gynecological examinations or deliveries are carried out in the presence of prison staff. This sometimes leads women to forego care.

Childbirth takes place in

outside care facilities

Security staff is prohibited from entering the room during labour and childbirth


The use of instruments of restraint is forbidden during labour and childbirth


Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until 18 months of age

This period may be extended in the event of the mother’s imminent release. There are some 60 children born during their mothers’ incarceration every year.

Modern facilities are built with cells designed to house a woman and her child. These cells are equipped with a bathtub and a separate space for the mother and child.

Surveillance staff assigned to sections housing mothers and children are not required to be in civilian clothing.

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


(the age of majority is 18)

Minimum age of imprisonment for minors

13 years old

Their imprisonment remains exceptional below 16 years old.

Incarcerated minors

1.2 % (752)
/ Prison administration

Variation in the number of incarcerated minors


This increase took place between January 2020 and January 2021. There were 804 minors in prison in 2020.

/ Prison administration

Ministry in charge of incarcerated minors

ministry of Justice

Under the Act of 2 February 1945, children and young people under 18 are subject to a special justice system. The Juvenile Judge, Juvenile Court, and the Assize Court for minors follow a different process than those for adults (taking into account the mitigation of responsibility, closed door hearings, etc.).

  • On 12 May 2020, five hundred public figures and practitioners working in the field of child protection called for the abandonment of the draft code of criminal justice for minors: “Many (of its) provisions, with the sole managerial aim of doing more without additionnal resources, outline an acceleration of criminal repression, to the detriment of educational time “.“

    / Syndicat de la magistrature

Minors are housed in six detention facilities for minors (établissements pénitentiaires pour mineurs (EPM)); the others are dispersed among the 47 juvenile units (quartiers pour mineurs (QM)).
The assignment to either the establishment or a unit depends upon the best interest of the youth, taking into account where they live, educational needs, and proximity to the jurisdiction in charge of the case.

Figures on minors in prison are published

on a regular basis, every three months

Minors in prison are separated from adults


The separation of youth and adult offenders is not always respected. It is applied inconsistently with males and rarely ever for females. Minors aged 13-16 who are awaiting trial are to be held separately from adults.

The law provides for single cell accommodation for minors


Youth are often held in individual cells, but not always, especially in facilities where overpopulation is a problem.

The schooling of minors is compulsory


Schooling is mandatory until age 16, as on the outside.

The law forbids solitary confinement for minors


Youth may be placed in disciplinary cells, as they are subject to the same conditions as adults. Youth over the age of 16 may be placed in solitary confinement.

The detention system in the EPMs is a mixture of repression and education. Group events (cultural and sport activities) are held, and sometimes are deemed to be excessive.

Educators from the Judicial Youth Protection Service work closely with youth in penitentiary establishments for minors and juvenile units. In principle, support staff (surveillance, health) must have special training qualifying them to work with youth. Supervisors assigned to juvenile units have not always completed this training, entitled, “référent mineur”.

24.5 % (15,338)

As of 1 January 2021, foreign nationals in prison came from Africa (55.2%), Europe (31.1%), North or South America (7.5%) and Asia (5.6%). 0.5% were from other countries or their nationality was unknown.

/ Prison administration

Foreign prisoners can be assisted by an interpreter

in some cases

The use of an interpreter, theoretically guaranteed for the duration of the proceedings, including disciplinary proceedings, is insufficient and sometimes non-existent.

Foreign prisoners are entitled to legal aid


Illegal residency is no longer considered an indictable offence per se, but its consequences may be.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to remain in the country after having served their sentence

under certain circumstances

At the end of their sentence, foreign inmates may be forced to leave French territory if the judge pronounced an additional sentence of a temporary or permanent ban on residence, or if the Ministry of the Interior issued a deportation order.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated


Foreign inmates may telephone authorised individuals in their country of origin, at their own expense.

Foreign nationals often face discrimination in gaining accessing to work, applying for sentence adjustments and maintaining family ties. They are more vulnerable when they lack proficiency in the French language. All requests must be made in writing and making a doctor’s appointment, for example, can sometimes feel like an impossible task.
Problems arising from the right to residency add to the difficulty of daily life in prison. Incarceration is an obstacle to obtaining legal residence, which is a complex process.
The procedure for applying for a residence permit includes mandatory appointments at the prefecture. To make these appointments, prisoners are required to apply for leave, which is not often granted. Interviews for asylum-seekers can now take place in prisons using audiovisual communication. However, this option presents challenges to confidentiality, building trust, interpreting, etc. People who are subject to an obligation to leave French territory have an appeal period of only 48 hours, despite the complexity of the proceedings.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

10 years

The Council of Europe refers to a long sentence as over five years in prison. In France, this expression is used mainly for sentences of 10 years or more. As of 1 January 2021, there are 13,424 people sentenced to five years or more.

There are specific prison facilities for long-term prisoners


Six maximum-security prisons and seven maximum-security sections are exclusively dedicated to long sentences. Many people carrying out long sentences serve them in detention centres or in detention centre sections.

Life sentences are banned


People serving a life sentence

0.8 % (477)
/ Prison administration

Life sentences are for the most serious crimes (certain kinds of murders and terrorism).

There are specific prison facilities for life-sentenced prisoners


People sentenced for criminal offences are usually sent to maximum security prisons, facilities where detention is largely based on security.

A person sentenced to life imprisonment automatically has a term of 18 years attached to their sentence. This excludes the possibility of a sentence adjustment during that period. Under certain conditions, the sentence may be reduced or extended to a maximum of 22 years.
In the event of sentencing to a prison term with a period of unconditional imprisonment, automatic sentence reductions may only be applied to the part of the sentence exceeding the minimum period.
Life imprisonment without parole, the most severe criminal sanction in French law, is accompanied by an unlimited period of incarceration. In practice, the possibility of release does exist for life sentences without parole. Article 720-4 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for the possibility of re-examination of the case after 30 years of imprisonment. The judge’s decision must be accompanied by the opinion of three medical experts responsible for examining “the danger posed by the convicted person”.

28.5 % (17,856)
/ Prison administration

Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


The law mandates the separation of remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners in remand centres, but this separation is not possible due to overpopulation.

The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners


The measure exists in the context of judicial reviews. The investigating judge or the release and detention judge can require the payment of a monthly sum, but this is not very common. It is primarily applied in financial cases.

Data collection about prisoners’ minority or indigenous background is allowed


Minority or indigenous backgrounds are criteria for specific cell or unit assignment


Even though there is no obligation to group foreigners in specific units, the practice of non-institutional and non-generalized “ethnic sorting” persists. It leads to a division within quarters based on nationality or origin, real or supposed, on the sole criteria of a person’s skin colour. Some prisoners request to be with a cellmate with whom they can communicate.

People of certain religious or ethnic groups are not subject to any particular detention regime.

The prosecution or imprisonment of a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned


LGBTQI+ persons are separated from other prisoners

in most cases

Fleury-Mérogis prison has an area reserved exclusively for people who identify as trans. Between 20 and 30 people are usually housed in this area. The ACCEPTESS-T Association provides them with support.

The prison administration assesses the circumstances of LGBTI individuals on a case by case basis and consequently adjusts their daily lives. These individuals are often placed in isolation for their safety. Access to employment and other activities is complicated, even impossible.

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

their ID gender

The rules for assigning trans inmates are not always applied. While in prison, LGBTI persons are often victims of homophobic or transphobic acts of violence, including: verbal, physical and sexual assaults

Transgender prisoners are entitled to customised searches


Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care


Access to health care is a major challenge. Trans people do not receive any information on how to obtain medical care specific to their needs.

The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners


Elderly prisoners

4.3 % (2,720)
/ Prison administration

Elderly prisoners are not grouped together in specific facilities or quarters. Facilities are not systematically designed to accommodate them.

When people reach the end of their lives, parole is prioritised. [See Sentence Adjustments].Some elderly people are forced to spend their last days incarcerated, with staff who have neither the training nor the means to support them.

The number of older prisoners increased by six times over the last 25 years.
There appears to be a lack of appropriate activities, limited access to work and little medical care. Doctors have also reported problems with procuring medical equipment. Older prisoners find it difficult to receive human assistance and are often forced to get help from other inmates.

Death penalty is abolished

yes, since 1981

The last execution took place on 10 September 1977.