French prisons have most suicides - and jail breaks - in Europe

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French prisons have most suicides - and jail breaks - in Europe
Prison guards protest outside Marseille-Baumettes jail in March 2019 for better working conditions. Photo: AFP

France has the grisly distinction of being the European country with the highest prison suicide rate, as well as being the country with by far the biggest number of people who manage to escape from jail, a new report says.


France has frequently been lambasted for overcrowding in its often dilapidated prisons, and now a Council of Europe report says a higher proportion of inmates kill themselves while incarcerated that anywhere else on the continent.

The prison administrations with the highest suicide rate per 10,000 inmates in 2017 - the year on which the report’s figures are based - were France at 12.6, just ahead of Austria at 12.3, and Germany at 11.8, with the European median figure at 5.5, the study said.

France was also shown to be the clear leader - far ahead of any other country - in the number of people who managed to break out from its penitentiaries, according to the report from the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog.


The European prison administrations with the highest number of escapes during 2017 were France, where 611 managed to successfully flee, while in Germany 394 escaped, 176 in Switzerland, and 136 in Sweden.

One particularly spectacular prison break came last summer when an infamous French gangster fled his prison near Paris aboard a hijacked helicopter in a commando-style operation.

Redoine Faid was eventually recaptured a couple of  months later.

A cell in Fresnes Prison near Paris. Photo: AFP

France was also singled out in the Council of Europe report for its continuing problem of overcrowding, and was one of the eight countries where this was said to be a “a serious overall problem.”

It packed on average 116 inmates into the space suitable for 100, putting it in third place in the overcrowding stakes, behind North Macedonia (122.3), and Romania (120.5).

France’s overall prison population on on January 31st 2018 was 69,596 out of a total population of 67 million, putting it in fourth place for the total number of inmates, with the  the Russian Federation at the top of the list with a whopping 602,176 in jail out of a total population of 144 million people.



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