As the suicide rate soars in France’s overcrowded prisons, the country’s justice minister has announced measures aimed at stemming the tide.
Michele Alliot-Marie unveiled her action plan after a visit to a jail in the central city of Orleans. “Every suicide is always a suicide too many,” she told reporters. “Furthermore, there are patterns where we are seeing these figures rise again so we have to take action.” Among the statistics that have set alarm bells ringing, there were 115 prison suicides for the whole of 2008 and already this year there have been 81. In the latest case, a 37-year-old man was found hanged at a jail in Marseille. Non-flammable mattresses, not-tearable sheets and paper pyjamas are part of the government’s response. While its measures are based on a report written by psychiatrist, Docteur Louis Albrand, he claims his conclusions have been watered down. He wants those at risk to be identified from their arrival in jail, saying seven out of the ten most recent prisoners to have taken their lives had already been classed as vulnerable. Conditions in French prisons have been criticised by human rights groups and the Council of Europe watchdog. Overcrowding remains a key problem, with more than 62,000 people in jails that are designed to house some 51,000 inmates.