France’s prisons system is in crisis, mainly due to the fact that it has more inmates in its jails than ever before.
In July authorities counted 69,375 prisoners compared to 58,311 official places available in the country’s 188 prisons.
One of the prisons, Fleury-Mérogis to the south of Paris, is the biggest in Europe. It was built to house 2,857 prisoners, but now has 4,539 under its roof.
Some prisons like Nimes in the south are 207 percent over capacity, with inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floors of cells.
The French Prime Minister Manuel Valls along with his Justice Minister Jean-Jacques Urvoas visited Nimes on Monday to witness the scale of the problem.
The Prime Minister vowed that a plan to deal with the record number of inmates will be announced in the autumn. He immediately launched a study on how the bulging prison in Nimes could be extended to cater for more prisoners.
As well as renovating prisons and creating new cells Valls said the government had to reflect on “how to deal with the overpopulation of prisons in the short term.”
Those on the right in France are demanding an extra 20,000 places be created in new prisons to cater for the record number of inmates, which shows no sign of decreasing.
However not all are in favour.
Adeline Hazan France’s prisons chief warned that extra places in prisons does not mean a solution to the longstanding issue.
“History has shown us that the more we build places in prisons, the more they will be filled,” she said adding that she was not in favour of the rights call to build new prisons or extend existing ones.
She did however add that an extra 6,000 places would ease the crisis.
Hazan said it would be preferable if France could decide on alternatives to sentencing people to prison, which should be used “as a last resort, just as the law states”.
The prisons chief spoke of more conditional suspended sentences, controlled probation and allowing prisoners out of jail under strict checks.
The justice minister is also believed to favour creating kind of half-way prisons where inmates must spend the night but are allowed out at day.
She put the overpopulation of prisons down to repeated violence between inmates and between prisoners and wardens.
Trouble has often flared between inmates and wardens, who have been forced to protest at various times in recent years over their working conditions.
François Bes from the International Prison Observatory (OIP) is also against just building new prisons as a solution for having too many prisoners.
He believes young offenders should be sentenced to work or training to help get them back on the right path and punishments that benefit the public could be handed out to those who damage property.
He points out that it costs France €100 a day per prisoner to lock them up, but for those who serve sentences without going to prison it's €40.