In case of arrest
There are three possible types of imprisonment: police custody, incarceration and administrative detention of migrants. The General Inspector of Confinement Centres is an independent authority that identifies any abuse resulting from imprisonment.
The CGLPL can only be contacted via post.
In principle, police custody lasts 24 hours, but it may be extended for another 24 hours with the authorisation of the public prosecutor.
Police Custody is used for any person suspected of having committed, or attempted to commit, a crime punishable by imprisonment. Police Custody aims to meet certain objectives including preserving evidence, preventing coercion, stopping crime, etc. Minors over the age of 13 are, with some exceptions, under the jurisdiction of common law and can therefore be held in police custody. This is decided by a judiciary police officer and is controlled by the public prosecutor.
Those held in police custody are guaranteed certain rights.
- They must be informed of their rights in a language that they understand.
- They have the right to an interpreter
- They must be informed of the case being made against them. This includes receiving an official statement, being notified of the length of custody and nature of the crime they are being held for.
- They have the right to inform their loved ones (family members, housemate or employer) by telephone, and / or via a police intermediary. Visits are not allowed.
- They have the right to inform the consular authoritiesof their country of origin, generally via the police intermediary.
- Loved ones or the person being held in custody may request a medical examination at any time (this right is renewed if the custody is extended).
- They have the right to legal assistance from a lawyer. The lawyer can be present during interrogations and can intervene. During interrogations, the person also has the right to remain silent and not to respond to any questions.
For how long is the person held in police custody?
In principle, police custody lasts 24 hours, but it may be extended for another 24 hours with the authorisation of the public prosecutor. This authorisation is granted in the majority of cases. Police custody therefore lasts up to a maximum of 48 hours, but there are exceptions for certain crimes. The time is calculated from the moment the person has been arrested by the police.
Can the person in custody be released on bail? If yes, what is the procedure?
No, bail is not permitted for cases of police custody. More generally speaking, this procedure is not contemplated under French penal law.
Where will the person be detained? What happens in custody?
The person is detained atthe police station, in a specified area. These areas are often unsuitable for detention e.g. poorly maintained toilet placed within cells, showers difficult to access, etc. This initial period of custody consists of police interrogations and various trial-related activities including fingerprints, photographs, etc. Meals are also provided.
At the end of the custody period, the accused appears before a judge who decides the next steps to be taken. Provisional detention is a possible outcome, as is appearing before the court, or another court summoning at another date.
What are the means of coercion available to the judiciary police?
Without exception, full-body searches are prohibited, as is physical or moral coercion. It is possible to carry out pat searches and to remove all objects, accessories or clothing that may pose a threat to the safety of the person or others. These must be returned to the detainee during interrogation.
Moral coercion has been known to occur, particularly during interrogations e.g. by banning smoking, holding prisoners in dirty cells, or depriving prisoners of certain items
Jurisdiction and the prisoner’s trial status determine where the prisoner is held.
For more information, check the fact sheets on FARAPEJ or the information sheets from the International Prison Observatory (only in French)
Where will my loved one be incarcerated?
Jurisdiction and the prisoner’s trial status determine where the prisoner is held.
For untried prisoners (awaiting trial): In principle, these detainees will be placed in a town jail within the jurisdiction of the investigation or the court before which they must appear. If there is no jail in this city or if the jail is not suitable due to the prisoners age, sex, security level, safety, etc. they will placed in the nearest suitable jail.
For sentenced prisoners: Sentenced prisoners must be held in a suitable establishment (detention centre or a high-security prison) after their trial. Transfers are rarely made immediately post-trial.
Those who receive short sentences (periods shorter than or equal to two years) or who are to be incarcerated for less than a year may be held in a local jail. This is very frequent in practice.
What happens when the person is detained?
Firstly, the person who is being incarcerated goes to the establishment's registry where they receive a personal ID number (a type of penitentiary identity), then the changing room to hand in personal belongings (money, identification documents, administrative papers and other objects). They are then searched, sometimes completely. A kit with writing utensils, toiletries, and hygiene products is given to them.
An interview takes place with a supervisor. The prisoner is then placed in an individual or shared cell for new inmates. They will have access to different prison services including social workers (penitentiary integration and probation supervisors) and medical personnel for a health assessment and screening.
Note: The Ministry of Justice publishes a guide for the new inmate in nine languages: French, Russian, Italian, English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, and German.
Note: Cimade publishes a guide for inmates who are not French nationals - information on the administrative situation (2014, updates to come); available in nine languages: English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Italian, Madarin, Portuguese, Romanian and Russian.
How am I informed of my loved one's incarceration?
Your loved one who has recently been incarcerated may, within the first hours of their detention, make a free call. Social workers may also inform you.
How can I communicate with my loved one in detention?
Inmates are not allowed to receive phone calls from outside of the prison. Certain events outside may cause loved ones to contact penitentiary integration and probation services in order to relay a message to the prisoner. The administration will decide whether or not to pass the information on to the person concerned.
Prisoners can make phone calls according to the terms and conditions attached to their penal status:
- If the person is an untried prisoner, they will have to request authorisation from the judiciary authority.
- If the person is convicted, they will be given the opportunity to contact family members only, (a right which can be taken away). Authorisation must be requested from the head of the establishment for other phone calls.
Requests are made in writing. Names and contact information must be given. Telephone access varies between establishments. Calls are at the cost of the inmates and may be listened to by the penitentiary administration. Cellular phones and communication via the internet are prohibited.
You will be able to send mail to your loved one, specifying their inmate number. They will be able to write to you. Sending these letters will be their responsibility. All mail may be read by the penitentiary authorities and those written in a foreign language may be translated.
Can my loved one contact the consular authorities of their country of origin?
Yes, they must be informed of this right in a language that they understand. They can, if they wish, inform the consulate of sentencing outcomes. The circular released September 18 2007 defines the practical terms of exercising this right for each nationality. For certain countries, France has an obligation to inform the consular post about prisoners. It is therefore compulsory, regardless of the inmate's agreement.
Consular agents must request authorisation to visit the prisoner according to the conditions detailed by common law.
Note: Refugees benefiting from subsidiary protection, or seeking asylum, must in no case have consular contact with the authorities of their country of origin. The administration must also respect the requirement not to contact the consulate.
What steps must I take to visit them?
You must request and obtain a visitation permit. The request must be in writing or completed online. Documents are required including ID photos, civil state documents, document proving family ties, etc.
- The examining magistrate grants visitation permits
- Management grants visitation permits to the inmates
It is possible to obtain the telephone number of each of the penitentiary establishments on the Ministry of Justice's directory. Telephone contacts are available for different services: penitentiary integration and probation department, prisons, registries, etc. Phone numbers for prison visits are sometimes available.
Note: The association UFRAMA provides family log books These booklets contain points of reference regarding the trial, the penitentiary establishments, and the exercise of fundamental rights.
How to find a lawyer to organise the defence?
Legal defence can be,
- a chosen lawyer: the National Bar Council has an online directory of lawyers
- a court-appointed lawyer: a request is made before the chairman of the crown court. The list of lawyers may be consulted in the prison registry.
If your loved one does not have sufficient resources, they can request jurisdictional help from the court. This support may be complete or partial. A completed form, accompanied by written proof must be submitted within the jurisdiction concerned. The office of jurisdictional help processes the request.
Note: the conditions and the practical terms concerning jurisdictional help are available here (in French only).
Communication between detainees and their legal council cannot be restricted. Correspondence cannot be read and interviews must be confidential.
What clothing and objects can be brought in during a visit?
You may bring documents, and clothing for your loved one, except for clothing resembling that of the prison wardens. Food is prohibited except during end- of-year parties.
Outside of visits, you can send packages that conform to penitentiary conditions. The situation varies from one establishment to another.
Can I send money to my loved one?
Yes, only by bank transfer or in the form of a money order. Money is transferred to a named account, managed by the penitentiary administration.
Can my loved one have access to an interpreter?
Access to an interpreter is guaranteed during penal and disciplinary procedures. This right is not always respected in practice due to the lack of interpreters. Access to an interpreter is not guaranteed for daily prisoner life e.g. medical appointments, meetings with penitentiary staff or probation department, etc.
Placement in administrative detention cannot exceed 45 days while awaiting forced return.
Administrative detention makes it possible to maintain a closed place for foreigners who are undergoing repatriation procedures. An administrative judge or a penal judge can make this decision. Placement in administrative detention cannot exceed 45 days while awaiting forced return.
Only 5 associations are equipped to intervene in the 25 administrative retention centres in France.
Other resources are available for more information and complete information.
- The Fair Trials site , for a fair and equitable defence (in English)
- The "Prisoner's Pack" published by the Foreign Affairs Office and the British Commonwealth (in English)
- Guide for incarcerated persons without French nationality, by la Cimade. (available in English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin, Portuguese, Romanian and Russian)
- Guide for detained persons édité par le ministère de la Justice (available in French, Russian, Italian, English, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian and German)
- Prisoner’s Guide, IOP/ Editions La Découverte, 2012, 704 pages, 873 questions/answers, 30 €