Monday, May 11, 2009

Prisoners indemnified for undignified conditions

It's not enough that France's prisons are overcrowded, provoking a rash of suicides and now a strike by guards that shut down a few prisons last week. (image credit)
The administrative tribunal in Rouen held last week that the government is liable for jailhouse conditions that do not respect human dignity. The three detainees who brought the suit were awarded 3000 euros each after having been held for over two years in cells in which the cabinet d'aisance* has no separate ventilation or even a "real partition" separating it from the main room. In addition, the toilets are close to the eating area (the photo accompanying the article shows several pots and pans hung up and a couple of baguettes, indicating that detainees cook and eat in their cells). In a 10.8- to 12.36-square- meter cell shared by 2 or 3 detainees, such a setup was judged to show a "lack of respect for intimacy" and constitute a "violation of health and hygiene rules."
Perhaps worse, the prison administration doesn't seem to be learning from its mistakes -- last year, another detainee was awarded 3000 euros by the same tribunal for essentially the same reasons, and similar suits (and awards) can be expected to follow if something isn't done: Rouen's maison d'arrêt (house of detention, or jail) opened in 1864, has space for 650 detainees, but houses 700 to 850. It clearly doesn't live up to its name of "Bonne nouvelle" (good news).

*literally, "a small room where one takes one's ease" (think "water closet").

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