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Guards rebel over record French prisoner numbers

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Guards rebel over record French prisoner numbers
Guards patrol a prison in Marseille. This week, official figures revealed the number of prisoners incarcerated in France has reached an all-time high. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP
10:39 CEST+02:00
France has more inmates behind bars than ever before, it was revealed this week, prompting hundreds of prison guards to assemble in front of more than 100 jails on Tuesday, in protest against over-crowding and safety concerns.

France's prison system appears to be at breaking point.

Official figures revealed this week showed that on June 1st the country had 67,977 inmates locked up in its jails – representing the highest number of prisoners in France's history.

With the official combined capacity of French correctional facilities at 57,325, the country’s prisons are over-crowded to the tune of 19 percent.

While the number of those given prison sentences actually dropped slightly, by 0.1 percent, since May, the number of prisoners remanded in custody while awaiting trial went up by 1.2 percent.

This over-saturation, along with concerns about staff safety and a lack of resources, prompted hundreds of prison guards to assemble in front of their workplaces on Tuesday.

The Ufap-Unsa prison guards union, whose members are not legally entitled to go on strike, said that prison staff had assembled in front of "more than 110 establishments", blocking deliveries, and setting fire to tires, wooden pallets, and other objects.

“This is a shot across the bows, to make the powers that be aware of the urgency of this situation,” union secretary-general Stéphane Barraut was reported as saying by BFMTV on Monday.

“This way, people will say to themselves: ‘We’re really going to have to deal the penitentiary system',” he added.

The Ufap-Unsa union has called for its members to protest in front of all correctional facilities in France, including detention centres, ‘maisons d’arrêt’ (low-security prisons), and ‘maisons centrales’ (high-security prisons).

On Thursday, 180 guards gathered outside a prison in Fresnes, near Paris, to demonstrate against a surge in violence directed towards them by inmates.

Just last week, a prison supervisor was taken hostage at knife-point by a convicted murderer in a high-security jail at Arles, in southern France.

The assailant had initially demanded a helicopter, the presence of members of the French media, and a change of prison, but in the end gave himself up after a few hours.

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