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Riots and 'zero crime' policy: The number of prisoners in France hits record high

Riot police officers charge a man holding his phone during a protest rally in Paris, France
Riot police officers charge a man holding his phone during a protest rally in Paris, France Copyright Lewis Joly/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Lewis Joly/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews with AFP
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The overall occupancy rate is currently 122.8% and stands at 146.3% in remand prisons.

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France’s chronic prison overcrowding is likely to get even worse as the country has broken a new all-time record for the number of inmates in their prisons: with 74,513 people currently behind bars.

Since the end of 2022, there has been one record after another broken, almost month after month, with the latest figures marking the sixth time the European country exceeded its previous high number. 

According to official figures published on Monday, there were 74,513 inmates in prisons, 2,446 more compared to last year. 

There were also more than 15,818 more than in summer 2020, when the Covid pandemic led to a drastic fall in the number of inmates.

France had gradually returned to its pre-Covid incarceration levels, but last April the country went over the 73,000 prisoner barrier for the first time. Then it hit another record after surpassing 74,000.

The overall occupancy rate is currently 122.8% and stands at 146.3% in remand prisons, where those waiting for their trial are held in custody and people with short sentences are incarcerated.

This overcrowding means that 2,478 inmates have to sleep on mattresses on the floor. A number that has grown significantly compared with the 1,872 on 1 July 2022 and only 422 three years ago.

Riots in France raise the average

The big question is what's behind the rise in prisoner numbers?

France is one of Europe's worst performers and was severely criticised in January 2020 by the European Court of Human Rights for the "structural" overcrowding in its prisons. It was condemned again on 6 July.

In spite of this, the overcrowding shows no signs of abating.

After the outbreaks of riots that followed the death on 27 June of Nahel, a teenager killed by a policeman in Nanterre, the government called for a "firm", "rapid" and "systematic" response.

More than 742 people were sentenced to prison terms and "more than 600" were incarcerated, according to the figures published by the Minister of Justice.

The association Observatoire international des prisons (OIP) stated that Prison overcrowding could worsen over the next few months as the Olympic Games approach, while the authorities set themselves the target of "zero crime".

On 19 July, a parliamentary report stressed the "urgent need" to introduce a prison regulation mechanism.

Despite this, there has been no further steps in this direction.

According to prison administration statistics, short sentences in particular have soared over the last thirty years. The time spent in detention has also increased, rising from an average of 8.6 months in 2006 to 11.8 months in 2020.

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