All prisoners are entitled to spend at least one hour a day in the open air
Access to exercise yards is a right, but inmates typically use them for one and a half hours per day within restricted windows of time. Prisons for convicted prisoners typically allow access to outdoor spaces.
The prison service offers activities to prisoners
Prisoners can take part in a number of activities that vary from one facility to another. Since 2009, prisoners have been obliged to participate in at least one. Access to an outside walking area is a right (usually 1.5 hours a day), although it is supervised.
There are a number of activities available but not enough to meet demand. In general, each activity can accommodate up to ten people. The prison administration estimates that, on average and for all activities combined (excluding walks), there is an average of one and a half hours of activity per day per prisoner. The criteria for registration are not transparent and subject to authorisation by the administration. Practical constraints (lack of rooms, limited budgets, poor dissemination of information) sometimes prevent activities from taking place.
There are designated places for physical activities and sports
Approximately 300 sports instructor guards (2017) and external participants from the prison administration’s partner federations contribute to this activity. The ratio is one instructor for every 220 inmates.
There are designated places for cultural activities
According to the Penitentiary Act of 24 November 2009, inmates must be consulted on the activities offered to them.
To access activities, prisoners must make a written request and are then placed on a waiting list.
Prison facilities have a library
Each prison has a library that is partnered with municipal or departmental libraries.
Work is compulsory
Less than 30% of the prison population has access to employment.
Number and percentage of prisoners who work
All prisoners are allowed to work
The law known as “trust in the justice system” makes provisions for the implementation of a prison employment contract to replace the current one-sided approach to work commitments. Benefits (unemployment, retirement) will be included in this new contract, as proposed in 2018 in a speech made by the President of the Republic at the École nationale d’administration pénitentiaire. The law was adopted during the first reading on 25 May 2021. The French branch of the International Observatory of Prisons called this “undeniable progress”. However, it regretted that the text “does not emphasise that employment during imprisonment should be a tool for re-integration and empowerment, separate from the idea of punishment”.
Labour as a punitive measure is prohibited
Most of the time, labour laws do not apply to those in prison. For instance, there is no minimum wage and no work contracts.
Maximum daily/weekly working hours are set, including at least one day of rest
Prisoners are paid for their work
significantly below the national minimum wage
The minimum remuneration provided for in the Prisons Act varies between one sixth and one third of the minimum wage (SMIC) earned by the general population. An inmate’s minimum wage may reach a little less than half the SMIC when they work for private companies or for the Industrial Board of Prison Establishments (RIEP). Remuneration cannot be less than €1.58 per hour, while the gross hourly minimum wage earned by the general population is €10.03 (as of 1 January 2019).
Prisoners are paid on a piecework basis
Their income is subject to social contributions
Health and safety standards applicable outside are respected in prison
Prisoners have the right to join trade unions
Work in prison generally takes one of three forms:
- General service. This refers to all jobs performed by inmates for the operation of the prison (maintenance, catering, upkeep of communal living areas).
- The Industrial Board of Prison Establishments (RIEP), managed by the Prison Employment Service (SEP). This service organises and markets the goods and services produced by inmates (computers, desktop publishing, printing, carpentry, clothing, metalwork, agriculture, etc.). The RIEP is present within 25 (of 185) prisons and has a total of 46 workshops.
- Concession work. Inmates work for private companies that have a workshop in the prison. The work is generally in manual operations (envelope-stuffing, packaging).
Prisoners may also work for themselves or for an organisation. Prison work benefits inmates in many ways. They earn an income for meals, provide for their family, etc.
The Prisons Act of 24 November 2009 brought certain advances in working conditions, such as the introduction of a contract of employment and the end of piecework, but these provisions are not always fully applied.
In February 2017, the Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (Contrôleure générale des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) issued an advisory in February 2017 denouncing the lack of respect for basic standards. In the same piece, she highlights the many legal loopholes in prison work that lead to violations of fundamental rights. In a 2017 advisory, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights recommended that the right to a work contract be applied during detention. It also called for the creation of a national agency for prisoner employment that would both act as the employer and seek out contractors.
Education and vocational training
Education is provided
in all establisments
Courses focus on basic knowledge (French as a foreign language, literacy, refresher courses and preparation for the general education certificate) or lead to a diploma (CAP, BEP, the diplôme national du brevet, baccalaureate, DAEU and university degrees).
Education is available for all prisoners
The prison service implements measures to fight illiteracy
These measures are not systematically applied.
Prisoners are allowed to pass diplomas and entry examinations
Vocational training is provided
Vocational training is available for all prisoners
Distance courses are available
Prisoners have access to computers
in some establishments
Internet access is prohibited in detention. Obtaining access to a computer (by individual request or as part of training) may be difficult.
The prison population in general suffers from a low level of education. One in five individuals (20.2%) is not able to pass a reading test, one in two do not possess a diploma (49%) and, in 2016, more than three-quarters did not exceed the level of education corresponding to the certificate of vocational aptitude (81%).
The latest key figures of the prison administration, dated 1 January 2018, report that for the 2016-2017 school year, instruction was provided by 520 primary or secondary education instructors or 504.4 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs). This was supplemented with overtime and the contributions of 1,158 contract teachers. This represents 4,369 hours of overtime completed per week, across 36 weeks, in other words, 208 FTEs.
Access to information
Prisoners are allowed to keep themselves informed regularly on public affairs
Access to information, such as the press and television, is guaranteed unless it becomes a safety concern. Services must be purchased, apart from some regional newspapers such as Ouest France, which are distributed locally by their publisher free of charge.
Prisoners have access to a television
yes, purchased or rented
Access to information, such as the press and television, is guaranteed unless it becomes a safety concern. Services must be purchased.
Prisoners have access to a radio
Prisoners have access to the press
The prison service allows access to Internet
The Inspector General of Prisons delivered a recommendation to the Official Bulletin on 6 February 2020, advocating internet access in prison. When prisoners do not have contact with digital technology and the internet, this precludes them from exercising many of their rights. They cannot visit human rights or legal information websites, or indeed their own solicitors’ websites in order to prepare their defence. The recommendation notes: ‘there is no law allowing prisoners to be deprived of all access to the internet’.
Access to online information (individual requests or for training purposes) is lacking and is subject to prisons’ security restrictions. The gap between the restrictions imposed by the prison services and technological developments is glaring. This makes it difficult for prisoners to reintegrate into society, especially those serving long sentences.
Prisoners are free to practice their religion and follow their beliefs
The principle of religious neutrality guarantees the free exercise of religious worship, under the responsibility of the administration.
Dedicated places of worship are available
in most establishments
Religious practices do not always take place in designated spaces. The most outdated facilities, in particular, do not have dedicated spaces for worship.
There are chaplains in the prisons
The prison service remunerates the chaplains
Chaplaincy contributors include chaplains, who may be compensated or volunteers, and the volunteer auxiliaries of chaplaincy. Catholic and Protestant chaplains account for more than half of those compensated and Muslim chaplains about a third. There are wide disparities in terms of resources, forms of remuneration by the religion (stipend, vacation), and the number of approvals issued by different religions. This makes it difficult to practice certain religions, in particular, the Muslim religion and others like it that require regular practise.
The demands of a spiritual life are not always met in prison. Inmates are not always allowed to keep their religious objects with them. Few institutions offer food in accordance with ritual requirements. Worship is sometimes interrupted due to time constraints, even when a service has had a delayed start and is not the fault of the inmates. Chaplains, notably Muslim chaplains, report that in the context of efforts to prevent radicalization in detention, the prison administration has expectations of chaplains that are not relevant to their function and may even hinder it. Following a decree on 5 May 2017, future chaplains of all religions are required to receive training in civics, a move that not all chaplains support. Not all chaplains are in favour of this training. Chaplaincies generally question the practicalities of such training and express discontent regarding the lack of consultation on the subject.
Individuals or organisations from the outside are allowed to participate in prison activities
Authorisations for external actors to take part in prison activities are provided by
- the prison service
- the prison governor
The integration and probation service seeks out external contributors, both volunteer and paid, to lead activities in prison. These contributors are given permission to access the correctional facility by its management. Several national organisations have the benefit of a partnership with the prison administration, which is notably the case for the French Red Cross, ANVP (prison visitors) or Secours Catholique, who are active in a number of correctional facilities.
Organisations authorised to intervene in correctional facilities do so in several areas: visits, sports, cultural and religious activities, education, material support, legal access, health promotion, etc. Some actions take place outside the institutions: greeting visiting loved ones, help upon release (professional reintegration, housing).
In 2019, the administration established agreements with 24 national organisations. This partnership can come with a subsidy.
The majority of people working with these organisations outside of prison are volunteers.
Community networking is also developed at the local level. Practically every institution enjoys a community network which pitches in. The number of contributors varies greatly from one city to another, as do the methods for their access to be approved. The remoteness of certain prisons does not facilitate contribution by external parties, nor do overpopulation and staff shortages. A directory (in French) of organisations which are involved in or are about prisons is available.
Prisoners are allowed to make use of financial resources
Financial resources are accessible
in an account
Destitute prisoners receive financial or in-kind support
The administration may decide to allocate financial support to so-called indigent people. The Code of Criminal Procedure defines indigent people as those “without sufficient resources” on the basis of the amount in their registered account. The threshold is set at €50 per month. Aid varies greatly from one institution to another: it is primarily paid in kind (clothing, replacement of toiletries), but can also be paid into the individual’s account. Financial aid for indigent people sometimes relies on the local voluntary sector.
Expression of prisoners
Prisoners have the right of association
Although criminal conviction does not take away the right to assembly and to form associations, inmates do experience a de facto denial of these rights. In the name of order, the Ministry of Justice regularly prevents the creation of associations or trade unions. Some attempts at meetups have been made, but all collective movements remain punishable by disciplinary sanctions. Inmates’ collective and individual expression is subject to the control of the administration.
Prisoners have the right to vote
Since 1994, all inmates have had the right to vote, with the exception of those sentenced to forfeiture of civic rights. In fact, not many inmates exercise their right to vote.
Internal newspapers are sometimes produced, but they rarely report on the concerns of inmates.
Inmates are sometimes included in certain aspects of prison life, often on a volunteer basis, for example as sports assistants or “support inmates”. The latter have a say in the conception and implementation of suicide prevention measures.