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

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.

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 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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France to punish ‘eco-cide’ with prison up to 10 years

France will make serious intentional damage to the environment punishable by up to 10 years in prison as part of planned "eco-cide" law, government ministers said in remarks published Sunday.

France to punish 'eco-cide' with prison up to 10 years
Barbara Pompili. Photo: AFP

The law was one recommendation from a Citizens' Convention for the Climate, a group created by the government a year ago, bringing together 150 people from the French population to discuss the environment.

An “eco-cide” offence would be sanctioned by up to 4.5 million euros in fines or up to 10 years in prison in cases of “intentional violation” of environmental laws, Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti and Ecological Transition Minister Barbara Pompili told the JDD weekly.

“We are going to create a general pollution offence,” Dupont-Moretti said.

“Punishment will be staggered according to a perpetrator's intentions.”

The aim was to fine violators of environmental laws “up to 10 times the profit they would have generated by throwing waste into the river”, he said.


The French constitution did not allow the qualification of such actions as “crimes”, just offences, Dupont-Moretti said.

France will also add an offence called “endangering the environment” to its statute books, Pompili said, under which potential offenders could be punished even before committing acts of illegal pollution.

Environmental expertise within the French judiciary will be beefed up to allow courts to improve their handling of pollution cases and civil claims, including by creating special environmental jurisdictions, Dupont-Moretti said.

The citizens' convention has submitted 149 proposals to cut greenhouse gas emissions to President Emmanuel Macron, who said he would convert 146 of them into government policy.