Delegation conditions locked up for months or years in

Delegation
of the French Republic

Position
paper for SOCHUM   

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Topic:
Treatment of prisoners

Represented
by Jubail International School

“No
one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should
not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones”
(Nelson Mandela) France is a beautiful country known for its diverse culture,
monuments, and structures, but its prisons lack human treatment. According to
the European Court of Human Rights norm, conditions of prisons at Fresnes, in
the Val de Marne region east of the capital are “inhuman or degrading”.

The prison
holds twice as many prisoners as its capacity. French prisons are overflowing.
With 68,000 prisoners behind bars, France has broken its own record of prison
overcrowding as security boosts across the country in reply to recent terror
attacks. Prisoners are packed into a 56,109 accommodation capacity and inmate
population has increased rapidly in 2007 ever since President Nicolas Sarkozy
introduced minimum sentences for repeat offenders.  There is a huge shortage of management and
supervisory staff and an estimated 70% of wardens are trainees. There is an
overpopulation of inmates, visiting rooms are compact and unclean, toilets lack
privacy and hygiene is deplorable. The prison courtyard is infested with rats
that have also invaded parts of building, their urine leaks through artificial
ceilings in the cells, and violent incidents between prisoners are frequent.
Harsh sentences and small quarters have been compounded by waves of prison
suicide. Not to mention, the disappearance of asylums from the French
institutional landscape has increasingly made prison a space for people with
diagnosable psychiatric conditions, as the number of prisoners with mental
problem increases.

Suicide
rates in prisons are exceedingly high. “It’s shameful for a country like France
to keep people with mental health conditions locked up for months or years in
prisons without adequate access to mental health care,” said Izza Laghtas,
Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. Men and women with
psychological disabilities are at risk of harming themselves or suicide. In
some cases when their condition deteriorates they are shifted to psychiatric
hospitals against their will. Return to the prison environment without
sufficient support or appropriate accommodations can lead to a recurrence of
mental health conditions and re-hospitalization, sometimes capturing prisoners
in a boundless cycle of hospitalization, discharge, deterioration, and
re-hospitalization. Such a cycle is both harmful to the patient’s health,
disruptive and costly to the prison as well as the hospital involved.

The
economic crisis has had no impact on the annual budget of the prison
administration. However, most of the additional funds were assigned to increase
the prison estate rather than rehabilitation initiatives. Prisoners and their
families are also deeply affected by the crisis. The impact of the crisis is
also affecting the country politically. The restriction and regulation on the
tax are restricting the government of France to invest in the improvement of
detainees and the relatives of the prisoners. The UN committee is concerned
that prisoners with psychosocial disabilities who are transferred to
psychiatric hospitals are often placed in isolation and physically restrained.
The United Nations formed a committee which is tasked with monitoring states’
compliance with the UN Convention against Torture and expressed concern about
the insufficiency of mental health staff working in French prisons. Better
treatment of prisoners is very crucial. Further measures can be taken by French
government to improve the situation of prisons by providing prisoners
professionals for those who are suffering from mental or medical health, to
ensure that when prisoners are admitted to psychiatric hospitals, they are not
isolated or contained when it is not therapeutically required, and to launch an
independent investigation needed to ensure accountability for abuses that have
taken place.