Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

  • the penitentiary administration
  • the police or gendarmerie

Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness


The procedures for body searches are regulated. The law permits body searches, whether full or partial, when they are justified by the presumption of an offence or by a risk to the safety of other prisoners or the institution posed by an inmate’s behaviour. The Prisons Act of 24 November 2009 authorizes searches on an exceptional basis when other means of control are considered insufficient (rub-down, electronic detection). These principles are not implemented. They are vehemently opposed by some prison guards’ trade unions. Since June 2016, strip searches may be carried out in accordance with general guidelines setting out the places and times when they may occur. They are planned regardless of the criteria related to the prisoner themselves.

Body cavity searches are conducted by a physician


Internal body examinations are banned unless express justification is provided. They must be carried out by a doctor.

Relatives who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

electronic devices

The search conditions of incarcerated individuals and the inspections of their loved ones, required during visits, are problematic for some. Some inmates refuse visits from their loved ones so as to shield them from these procedures.

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

electronic devices

  • A guard at the Varenne-le-Grand detention centre forced a lawyer to remove her bra and place it in a locker before being allowed to see her client. At least three other lawyers reported identical experiences in July and August 2021. In August 2020, the director of the prison service called requests to disrobe a breach of the officer’s ethical duties, stating that the officer in question should be corrected or even reprimanded.

    / Mediapart

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

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


Regional intervention and security teams (ERIS, Equipes régionales d’intervention et de sécurité) assist with re-establishing and maintaining order in the event of collective or individual movements.

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

The prison service keeps record of incidents


Number of violent acts against prison staff


The number of violent acts against prison staff increased by 5.8% between 2016 and 2017.

/ Prison Administration

Collective movements are recorded


Protest movements are usually aimed at denouncing prison conditions or failings of the institution. Prisoners may protest by refusing to return from the courtyard, refusing meals, or gathering in the workshops. Protests, regardless of the reason, constitute a disciplinary offence and may be referred to the Disciplinary Committee and result in a disciplinary sanction.

Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing


The disciplinary system and its proceedings carry certain procedural guarantees, such as the presence of a lawyer and the participation of an assessor on the disciplinary committee who is independent of the administration.

The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate


Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer


Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


Solitary confinement can be used as

  • protection
  • security

Solitary confinement is decided

  • a magistrate’s order
  • the prison governor
  • the request of the detained person

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited


In theory, the time spent in an emergency protection cell (CproU) cannot exceed 24 hours. However, it is not uncommon for a prisoner placed in a CproU on a Friday night to spend the weekend there.

  • A prisoner was held in isolation for 32 months. He claimed that he was subject to inhuman and degrading treatment and feels that his right to privacy was violated, stating that the reasons for his isolation were not sufficiently justified. The European Court of Human Rights questioned France over these events.

    / Nicolas Hervieu, lecturer at Sciences Po in public law and European human rights law

Solitary confinement can be extended


The solitary confinement measure is subject to regular review