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Every prison facility has a health care unit


Access to healthcare is assured in detention by a level 1 medical unit, an internal structure of the affiliate hospital, located in each institution. Services within the scope of general medicine and which do not require hospitalisation are provided there. The availability of medical equipment varies greatly between institutions and include a lack of X-ray or ophthalmology equipment or poor condition of sterilisation supplies. These units are often cramped and barely functional.

Access to medical units is uneven across facilities. On the whole, access to general medical care is satisfactory, although subject to the constraints of the institutions (activities on the same schedule, ongoing disciplinary procedures, etc.). There are serious shortcomings in specialised care, particularly ophthalmological and dental care, and care for chronic conditions. There are not enough specialist doctors. In certain situations, particularly in the disciplinary unit or in the event of medical extraction, the consultation conditions can be problematic. In particular, there is a lack of respect for medical confidentiality and the quality of care.

  • The Limoges remand centre could give regular medical follow-ups thanks to a healthcare unit available year-round. This unit would treat disorders that prisoners present upon arrival and those that emerge during incarceration. Almost all prisoners would have addiction problems requiring replacement therapy. Many specialists from the teaching hospital would work at the remand centre including general practitioners, ophthalmologists, gynaecologists, physiotherapists and gastroenterologists. Limoges prisoners could access to a great deal of care at the institution or outside it, if necessary. All services were able to treat disorders related to imprisonment conditions. The healthcare unit registered an average of 45 visits per day, which means about one third of the prison population was seeking treatment.

    / France3

Inmates are allowed to make complaints against the prison administration, especially for abuse of power or if they are victims of a criminal offence. Like any citizen, inmates may file a complaint before the criminal courts. They can also refer to various regulatory agencies that are capable of carrying out investigations outside of the justice system. The inmate who wishes to file a complaint must send a letter directly to either the public prosecutor for the place of detention, which is the recommended option, or to the closest gendarmerie or police station. The complaint must be submitted within a certain period, and it is best to send it as soon as possible. It may be sent in a sealed envelope. The inmate can also speak to the administrative and judicial authorities – investigating judges, sentence enforcement judges, children’s court judges, MPs, etc.
In a judgement delivered on 30 January 2020, the European Court of Human Rights held that “preventive remedies in place – an urgent application to protect a fundamental freedom and an urgent application for appropriate measures – were ineffective in practice”. It considered that prisoners did not have the adequate means to bring about the “full and immediate cessation” of breaches of fundamental rights. The Court stated that the powers of administrative judges to make orders were “limited in scope”.

  • The French section of the International Prison Observatory (IPO) once again painted a bleak picture of the state of French prisons. Even after the European Court of Human Rights condemned France in 2020, the situation was still just as dire: promiscuity, lack of privacy, no division between the different types of prisoners, violence and unsanitary conditions. The courts convicted 42 institutions, including several located in Overseas France, for substandard imprisonment conditions. Prisoners would regularly inform the IPO about the inhuman and degrading conditions that they would be subject to. One prisoner complained about a rat infestation and reported that a courtyard was “frequently covered in sewage, including human excrement.”

    / France TV info
  • Rouen’s administrative court ordered the State to compensate 8 prisoners from the correctional facility in Évreux for undignified imprisonment conditions. The institution would house 3 to 4 prisoners in a single 10m2 cell. The complainants’ counsel explained that this was the first conviction for the institution.

    / Le Figaro


  • Attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have been highly misunderstood neurodevelopmental disorders. A 2015 Cambridge University study based on diagnostic clinical interviews found that one in four prisoners suffered from this type of disorder. This is ten times higher than the general adult population. The study authors recommend prisoner-specific “multimodal treatment,” which would involve psychoeducation groups, and short behavioural and cognitive therapies to teach them how to better manage the intensity of their emotions. Jérôme Bachellier, a psychiatrist in the prison healthcare unit (unité sanitaire en milieu pénitentiaire, USMP) explained that “the prison lacks trained staff who can recognise the disorder.” The medical staff could use training, but “it always comes down to the question of human capacity and time.”

    Le Monde

Number of deaths in custody


(in 2019)

/ SPACE I, p.112
  • The Gradignan remand prison reported the third death in a month. After distributing meals, one of the guards noticed smoke coming from one of the cells. A 37-year-old prisoner suffered from respiratory distress, while a 20-year-old burned to death. This tragedy was another event in a series of deaths and suicides at this overcrowded prison.

    / Révolution permanente

Access to medical units is uneven across facilities. On the whole, access to general medical care is satisfactory, although subject to the constraints of the institutions (activities on the same schedule, ongoing disciplinary procedures, etc.). There are serious shortcomings in specialised care, particularly ophthalmological and dental care, and care for chronic conditions. There are not enough specialist doctors. In certain situations, particularly in the disciplinary unit or in the event of medical extraction, the consultation conditions can be problematic. In particular, there is a lack of respect for medical confidentiality and the quality of care.

  • A report by the Controller-General of the places of deprivation of liberty (Contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) painted a grim picture of the hospitalisation conditions at Elbeuf’s hospital (Centre Hospitalier Intercommunal, CHI), considering them humiliating and degrading for patients. These included breaches of medical confidentiality, lack of respect for prisoner rights, and inadequate safety measures. Until they were returned to their cells, patients would remain systematically handcuffed during consultations, operations and in the recovery room. The situation at Elbeuf’s CHI was no isolated instance. The CGLPL recommended that hospital staff receive specialised training.

    / Le journal d’Elbeuf

Most of the time, labour laws do not apply to those in prison.
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 promulgated on 22 December 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”.

  • On 1st May, new legal provisions on prison work came into effect, namely to establish a “prison employment contract” and regulate the terms for accessing employment, suspension and contract termination. That said, employment laws that would apply outside prison walls would not always exist inside them. Nearly 20,000 people were still working under the derogatory system. Civil society organisations underlined that these new provisions maintained “a disproportionate imbalance between the obligations of those in charge and the constraints weighing on prisoners, as well as allow[ed] work flexibility to be much more attuned with the needs of those enforcing orders.”

    The minimum hourly wage was not changed, ranging from 20% (2.11 euros/hour) to 45% (4.76 euros/hour) of the statutory minimum wage (salaire minimum de croissance, SMIC). Moreover, these new provisions still did not provide coverage or compensation in the event of illness. Civil society organisations, including the Human Rights League and the French section of the International Prison Observatory, emphasised the importance of recognising the collective rights of working prisoners.

    / LDH France

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.

  • In May 2022, the Controller-General of the places of deprivation of liberty (Contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) published a notice in the French government gazette about interpretation services for persons deprived of liberty and how they were understood. The notice talked about “inadequate” translations in prison, which were “done on the fly by agents or other persons deprived of liberty.” The CGLPL noted that this method was helpful in emergency situations, however, “it [could not] guarantee that the interpretation [was] accurate or that the affected person remain[ed] safe.”

    / CGPL

There is a reception area for arriving prisoners

in most establishments

Inmates are placed in new arrivals units or cells. The observation period may extend no longer than three weeks. Inmates are then placed in regular detention.

  • The Controller-General of the places of deprivation of liberty (Contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) published its first thematic report on new prison arrivals. There were several findings:


    The information given to new arrivals on their rights was often incomplete, inaccurate and delivered too quickly. The CGLPL pointed out that, while many documents were provided during on-site interviews, the information provided by staff was inconsistent and sometimes inadequate.

    The documents given to new arrivals were “not well-translated.” The CGLPL warned that such deficiencies might ultimately endanger the safety and health of new prisoners.

    Interpreter use would not be systematic, which did not comply with the regulations for places of deprivation of liberty. The CGLPL underlined that this non-compliance might lead to rights violations and put new prisoners in situations that would pose a risk to their safety and health.


    The CGLPL denounced the systematic practice of strip searches for new arrivals and pointed outs that these prisoners would have already been searched and be under constant surveillance. At this point, conducting another strip search would not not be justified and did not comply with regulations in effect.

    Material conditions of imprisonment

    New prisoners who did not have a shower in their cell were rarely able to take a shower after arriving at the institution.

    Daily life

    The Controller-General of the places of deprivation of liberty (Contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) was disappointed that new arrival units did not offer any activities, stating that the purpose of these units was to reduce “prison shock” and help new arrivals prepare for life in prison. A lack of activities did not help them “prepare for the ‘intense communal reality’ of an ordinary prison regime.”

    / CGLPL

Preventative measures for epidemic and contagious diseases are implemented.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Controller-General for Places of Deprivation of Liberty requested a specific vaccination campaign for prisoners. She expressed particular concern about “the inevitable promiscuity in detention, the vulnerability of the prison population and the simplicity of the process as all patients [were] in one place”.
On 5 February 2021, the State Council stated that there was no need to register prisoners as a priority for the first phase of the vaccination. They believed that the risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19 did not appear to be higher for prisoners than for the average population.

  • The Controller-General of the places of deprivation of liberty (Contrôleure général des lieux de privation de liberté, CGLPL) expressed its concern about how few prisoners had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine: 57% of incarcerated persons had been vaccinated, compared to 77% of the general population. The CGLPL further explained that the number of cases quadrupled during January.

    / CGLPL

Number of medical staff (FTE)


  • The already stretched nursing staff at the Nîmes remand centre could see their numbers decrease. Although the institution had 400 prisoners, the regional health agency (*Agence régionale de santé, ARS) would consider its official capacity (192 places) before allocating resources and, thus, provide funding for four positions. Nîmes Hospital provided funding for three additional positions, but had to back out due to financial difficulties. The team was weary: “We won’t be able to manage excess work. It’ll lead to psychological exhaustion. Under-staffing not only jeopardises the quality of care provided, but also healthcare safety for prisoners who already face major health and social challenges.” Reducing staff could lead to interruptions in addiction studies follow-up, suicide prevention or even health education workshops.

    / OIP Section française

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.

    / UFRAMA – communiqué de presse

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.”

    / Le Monde

Policies for prevention of violent extremism and radicalisation have been implemented.

  • Senator Esther Benbassa visited the extremism unit of the women’s prison in Rennes. The first of its kind for women in France, the unit then had nine prisoners, but had the capacity to house up to 16.

    / Le Télégramme

Number of escapes


  • A prisoner escaped on his way to Tulle (Corrèze) prison, where he was being held before transferring to the prison in Le Havre.

    / Ouest France

Security staff carry

  • firearms
  • non-lethal weapons

Security personnel do not carry firearms. The use of a firearm is possible from the watchtower in the event of an escape and is regulated. Each prison has an armoury, reserved for serious and violent incidents.

  • Taser use was on the rise in prisons. In November 2021, an order was issued to allow prison security teams to use tasers in more scenarios. Prison officers responsible for judicial transfers and releases, or internal and perimeter security were allowed to use this “intermediate” weapon to “respond to physical aggression” or “dangerous or threatening behaviour.” The French section of the International Prison Observatory denounced the inadequate legal protection when it came to taser use.

    / OIP Section française

Prisoners are accommodated in single cells

in most establishments

Individual confinement is the norm in prisons, with the exception of those overseas. However, it is not the norm in jails, which house the majority of the incarcerated population. The law has provided for the right to individual confinement since 1875, with this right being reaffirmed in 2000. Moratoriums have followed, with the expectation that the number of places available will be sufficient for the number of inmates to be housed. There may be three people placed in a single cell, and four in a double cell. Judges, parliamentarians and prison administrators still tolerate the placement of several people in one cell. New facilities, which are supposed to guarantee individual confinement, do not do so.

  • A report by a parliamentary commission of inquiry stated that only 43% of the prison population was given single-cell accommodation. Caroline Abadie, member of the National Assembly and LREM (La République En Marche!) politician, suggested moving away from this 1875 legislation, underlining that “the problem isn’t that there are two prisoners in one cell, but that two prisoners share a cell that’s meant for one.” She believed priority should be placed on respecting prisoners’ dignity, not individual cells. Quoting former Senate member Jean-René Lecerf, the International Prison Observatory pointed out that “providing single-cell accommodation could prevent a number of abuses” and that maintaining dignity meant upholding this principle.

    / Le Monde

The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons


Prisoners who become ill may obtain early release if they have a life-threatening condition, or their health situation is too compromised to remain in prison. There were 238 requests for suspended sentences for medical reasons in 2013 and 207 were granted.
The Senate report on the cost of prison health care showed that this measure is not often taken because of the lack of structures to admit people upon their release.

  • Tommy Recco, France’s oldest prisoner, applied for parole due to medical reasons related to his age. The appeals court in Bastia rejected the 87-year-old’s request, stating that he was at a high risk of reoffending. His lawyer contemplated submitting an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

    / La Croix

Number of deaths attributed to suicide


/ Ministry of Justice
  • A suicide was reported at the Metz-Queuleu prison. The Force Ouvrière union explained that it was difficult to prevent such acts because “prisoners often wait until the guards have finished their rounds to attempt suicide.”

    / France Bleu

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 staff from about 100 facilities participated in a strike called by three unions. Demanding progress on their status and salary increases, the strikers blocked releases and visits from relatives, healthcare staff and educational workers.

    / Le Figaro

Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities


/ Prison administration

The capacity of the French prison system decreased between January 2021 and January 2022. The number of available places in prisons (“operational” capacity) went from 60,583 to 60,749.

  • A new prison in Brain-sur-l’Authion (Maine-et-Loire) was set to replace the Angers facility by 2027. While Angers had the capacity to house 266 incarcerated persons, the new prison would have 850 places: 790 for men and 60 for women. Brain-sur-l’Authion mayor, Jean-Charles Prono, supported the project, believing it would lead to job creation and potential economic benefits for local producers. Some residents, on the other hand, were not in favour of the new prison. Consultation meetings were organised in the three municipalities that would be affected by the planned construction.

    / France 3
  • In 2017, early in his term as President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron announced a programme to expand the country’s prison estate and to build 15,000 additional places over 10 years. Seven thousand places are expected for the end of 2022. The remaining places should be available by 2027.
    The programme provides for the construction of new types of correctional facilities:

    • Support programmes for the re-integration of offenders (les structures d’accompagnement vers la sortie, or SAS) with 2,000 places. They are expected to admit offenders with sentences under one year and those who are nearing the end of their long sentences.

    • Two experimental prisons that will partner with prison companies to develop an employment programme that will enable prisoners to continue working after their release.