In prisons, “the only way to end overcrowding is to limit the use of incarceration”


Ioday three years ago, on January 30, 2020, the European Court of Human Rights condemned France for overpopulation “structural” of his prisons and the indignity of his conditions of detention. Calling them “inhuman or degrading treatment”, it enjoined the State to initiate a policy of “definitive reduction of prison overcrowding”.

Despite this condemnation, France has never imprisoned so much. In November 2022, it even broke its historic record for people detained. At 1er January 2023, more than 72,000 people are locked up in our prisons, more than two thirds of them in remand centers with unworthy living conditions. The average occupancy rate there exceeds 141%; in some it is over 200%. And 2,111 people are forced to sleep on a mattress on the floor.

The vertigo is even greater when we remember that at the end of the spring 2020 confinement, the country had experienced a drastic drop in the number of prisoners. In a short time, French justice thus revived the repressive gear in which it was locked up and locked up more than 14,000 people.

An inefficient and costly policy

The actors of the prison world and the independent authorities continue to warn of the dramatic consequences of this situation. The violations of the fundamental rights of detainees are such that the general controller of places of deprivation of liberty (CGLPL) has multiplied urgent recommendations and recently went so far as to recommend the suspension of any new imprisonment in the remand center of Bois-d’Arcy (Yvelines).

Read also: The number of detainees in France reaches a new record

To meet the humanitarian, legal and political imperatives of prison overcrowding, the government prefers to take refuge behind the creation of 15,000 new prison places by 2027, rather than confronting the causes of this French evil. However, the opening of new establishments has never made it possible to reduce overcrowding. For thirty years, at the same time that France has built 24,000 prison places, it has, according to our calculations based on data published by the Ministry of Justice, locked up nearly 27,000 additional people. The more we build, the more we confine.


This policy is not only ineffective, it is also extremely costly: it takes 250,000 euros to build a prison square. By stubbornly erecting new walls and pouring thousands of tons of concrete, the public authorities are draining the funds available to renovate dilapidated prisons, put in place real reintegration policies and promote alternatives. And seem to forget that the only way to end overcrowding is to limit the use of incarceration.

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