Contact with the outside world
All prisoners have the right to receive visits
All inmates, whether charged or convicted, have the right to have visits with their loved ones. Visits are allowed once a permit has been issued and an appointment has been made by telephone or computer terminal. An application for a visitor’s permit may be refused however, since May 2016, an appeal is possible.
People eligible to visit
Once a week, members of the national association of prison visitors (Association nationale des visiteurs de prison, ANVP) would spend a half-day visiting incarcerated persons without families in the Saint-Brieuc remand centre. Members could take turns visiting three prisoners for one hour each. Follow-up visits usually occured six months to a year later. Didier Bazin, Director of ANVP’s Côtes-d’Armor section, explained that the program aimed to “bring much-needed humanity behind prison walls.”
Prisoners on remand are entitled to three visits per week, and convicted prisoners are allowed one visit a week. Each facility sets its own days and hours. In general, a visit may last between 30 and 45 minutes in remand centres, one hour in prisons and several hours in high-security prisons. Visits can take place in common rooms or individual cubicles.
Prisoners and visitors can meet without physical barriers
Visits in an area with a separation system are the result of a decision by the prison administration. Such visiting rooms separate inmates from visitors by a window pane and a telephone and result from a decision by the prison administration. They may be imposed following a disciplinary sanction or if the prison administration has reason to believe that an incident may occur. This decision must be communicated to the inmate, who may challenge its legitimacy with the help of a lawyer.
Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives
yes, with special requirements provided
Amenities for children are sometimes provided, such as kids’ corners or games areas. A few institutions provide visiting rooms that are slightly more spacious for inmates with visiting children. Family Visiting Units (Unités de vie familiale, UVF) or family parlours also allow inmates to maintain family bonds.
The national union of regional federations of associations of family reception homes (Union nationale des Fédérations Régionales des Associations de Maisons d’accueil des familles et proches de personnes incarcérées, UFRAMA) observed “broken or weakened relationships between adolescents and their incarcerated parents.” The organization created a website for these prisoners to provide them with general information on administrative procedures and give them a platform to ask questions.
Conjugal visits are allowed
The prison administration does not use the term “conjugal visit”. Any inmate may access all types of visiting rooms: standard visiting room, “family visiting parlours”, or Family Visit Units (FVU). In reality, few inmates enjoy improved detention conditions guaranteeing intimacy.
The family visiting parlours are closed rooms which preserve confidentiality and privacy. They measure between 12 and 15m². Inmates, be they remand or sentenced, may receive loved ones there for a maximum time of six hours.
FVUs are two- to three-room apartments which allow extended family visits, from 6 to 72 hours. Due to their scarcity, the administration prioritises those with access to FVUs, to the detriment of their effectiveness.
Read the account of Céline H. about a visit inside an FVU: “Intimacy inside four walls”
New FVUs are sometimes not put into use until several months after construction.
Incarcerated persons may apply for family reunification if they are able to justify their request. The request must be addressed to the prison governor and the procedure is lengthy.
Reception facilities for families waiting for visiting hours are set up at the institutions. They are run by organisations and/or private service providers. The relevant organisations specialise in maintaining connections between imprisoned parents and their children. They accompany the children to the visiting rooms when necessary.
Maintaining family ties is often compromised by the inaccessibility of the institutions. The financial cost of travel, the geographical remoteness of some prisons and the lack of public transport are major obstacles. Malfunctions related to visits regularly occur, including computer errors, faulty equipment, transfer of the person.
Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail
Prisoners are permitted to correspond freely by mail. In theory, they are supposed to be given a “correspondence kit” when they arrive in prison consisting of paper, envelopes and a pen. They pay for their own stamps.
Mail exchanged is subject to control
Permitting the exchange of correspondence is the responsibility of the postal clerk, the agent authorised to process it. The mail of an accused person, upon sending or receiving, is read by the investigating judge. The institution may withhold mail in the event of a breach of security. There is little data to indicate how often this occurs.
A prisoner at Alençon-Condé-sur-Sarthe contacted the Caen administrative court concerning the decision by the facility’s management to withhold mail addressed to him by the International Prison Observatory, French division in February 2021. On 14 November 2022, the court reversed management’s decision, noting that, although mail may be opened and read, the prison service’s right to confiscate mail is strictly limited and must be properly justified.
Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail in sealed envelopes
Inmates may correspond with certain individuals and authorities by sealed envelope, meaning they are sealed at the time of posting and upon receipt. No disciplinary sanction can limit or suspend this right.
Letters addressed to or received by integration and probation officers and registered chaplains are not inspected. Correspondence between an inmate and their lawyer is confidential. This is also the case for administrative and judicial authorities, as listed in the French Code of Criminal Procedure and including the prosecutor, courts, local or national political figures, the Council of Europe, the Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty (Contrôleur générale des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL), the judge responsible for the execution of sentences and the French ombudsman (Défenseur des droits).
Confidential mail is often opened and read.
Prisoners are allowed to receive parcels
During the Christmas holiday season, everyone is allowed to receive one package with a maximum weight of five kilogrammes; its content is regulated. In exceptional cases, inmates may receive items sent by post, especially if their family lives abroad. The French Code of Criminal Procedure strictly defines which items are allowed. The parcel must be approved by the correctional facility’s management and, for untried inmates, the examining judge of the case.
E-mail exchange is possible
Prisoners are allowed to make external phone calls
Prisoners are allowed to make a limited number of telephone calls to a restricted list of numbers approved in advance by the administration (20 in remand prisons, 40 in prisons). They are not permitted to receive telephone calls. The SPIP can be called in the event of a serious family problem.
Prisoners are allowed to call
By law, sentenced inmates have the possibility of calling members of their family. Remand prisoners must receive prior authorisation from the examining judge of their case. Permission to call non-family members is subject to approval and must aim to “prepare for reintegration” (e.g. potential employers, prison visitors, or representatives of housing organisations).
The phones are located
- in the cells
- in the yard
- in the corridors
The telephone boxes (also called “phone points”) located in the exercise yards or walkways are not available for use outside of business hours. Some cells are starting to be equipped with telephones. Privacy is almost never guaranteed.
The cost of phone calls is in line with market prices
High call charges are another barrier, especially for calls to overseas territories and to foreign countries.
Phones calls are wire tapped
Conversations may be listened to, however conversations with the following parties are confidential: Human Rights Advocate, Controller- General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty, lawyer, humanitarian phone numbers (CASP/ARAPEJ information number, Red Cross inmate support line…). Telephone calls may be listened to in real time or after the fact. Conversations held in a foreign language may be translated for monitoring purposes. In practice, certain inmates are systematically monitored (for example, those belonging to a terrorist movement or organised crime, or high-profile inmates).
The use of cell phones is authorised
Mobile phones, despite being strictly forbidden, are part of everyday prison life. They are the cause of many disciplinary sanctions.