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French prisons have most suicides in Europe

Joshua Melvin · 29 Apr 2014, 17:37

Published: 29 Apr 2014 17:37 GMT+02:00

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More bad news dropped on Tuesday for France's troubled prison system when a new report showed more of its prisoners ended their own lives behind bars than in any other European country.

A report from international cooperation group Council of Europe revealed France recorded 100 suicides in 2011, the most recent statistics available, among its some 64,000 prisoners. The numbers mean the self-inflicted death toll here was the highest of all 45 countries covered by the report.

By way of comparison, Italy was closet to France with 63 suicides, followed by the United Kingdom with 59 prisoners dying at their own hands. Also, a few countries' suicide rates, which is calculated using the number of deaths per 10,000 inmates, were higher than France's. But those countries had suicide totals in the single digits.

It's possible a lack of accurately reported data from the other countries or other statistical anomalies could have skewed the results. However, France is home to two two well-known tragic circumstances that would help explain the spate of self-inflicted deaths.

First, France's suicide rate is among the highest in Europe and that is for its population living outside the violent and hopeless world of prisons. The other factor is the physical condition of France's lock-ups, which is bad and getting worse.

Earlier in April France’s prison authority announced it was holding a record number of inmates, with 68,859 people behind bars. That statistic means French facilities are 20 percent over their approved capacity, meaning in some case three inmates are packed into cells designed for one.

A prison watchdog group told The Local the conditions have pushed prisoners and guards to the breaking point.

France’s prisons are exploding and they continue to fill up. It’s a harder life for inmates and more complicated work conditions for the personnel,” editor-in-chief of publications at prison watchdog group Observatoire International des Prisons France, Barbara Liaras, told The Local previously.  

She added: “The work conditions for prison guards have become impossible. When the prison is overpopulated there is more tension and more violence. They spend their days running from one end of the prison to the other.”

On top of the already powder-keg conditions inside French prisons, France’s people are among the most likely to kill themselves in Europe. A study last year showed everyday in France an average of 21 men and eight women take their own lives and around 700 attempt it.

Statistics for 2009 show the European Union average for the number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants stood at 16.8 for men and 4.4 for women. However in France the number of suicides stood at 23.5 and 7.5 respectively.

Jean-Claude Delgenes, the director of Technologia, a company which works with highlighting safety concerns for workers, said that  historically, told The Local previously France has never been a good example of how to deal with the issue.

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“For a lot of issues, whether its suicide, asbestos or cancer, France was left behind when it came to creating programmes and policies geared towards prevention,” he said. “In the UK the first plan to help prevent suicide was laid out in 1950, in France it was in the year 2000.”  

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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