Beatings, insults: rights body slams France for prisoner treatment

·2-min read
Much room for improvement, according to a report

The Council of Europe took aim at detention conditions in French prisons and police stations on Thursday, saying it was "extremely concerned" by what it found during a fact-finding mission.

The human rights body's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) said while most people interviewed reported no mistreatment, some said they had been "deliberately beaten" during their arrest or on police premises.

There were also allegations of insults, sometimes racist or homophobic, and threats made with weapons, a CPT report based on a December 2019 mission found.

"Generally speaking, the CPT is extremely concerned about the material conditions of detention in some of the police stations visited," a Council statement said.

The report also highlighted overcrowding in French prisons, saying occupancy rates in some facilities exceeded 200 percent, with nearly 1,500 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

Noting that conditions differed greatly from one establishment to the next, the CPT said that in disciplinary and isolation units "cells were often poorly insulated and lacked natural light and the exercise yards were too small and under-equipped".

The CPT said it also worried about the impact of prolonged periods of solitary confinement -- which could last for years -- on the mental health of inmates.

Sometimes prisoners requiring psychiatric care were kept in prison because of a lack of specially adapted hospital units, the report found.

During their mission the CPT delegates visited 12 police stations and four prisons, as well as one psychiatric unit.

In a detailed response to the report, the French government said that much had changed since the 2019 visit, partly because of Covid-19.

The prison population had been reduced since March 2020 to stem the spread of the virus, it said.

Prison facilities had been extended, and France had also been exploring alternatives to prison sentences as punishment for offenders.

Following a subsequent spot check of a single prison, in the eastern city of Strasbourg in July 2020, the CPT added that anti-Covid measures for the protection of prison staff and inmates had been "constructive", but that there was scope for further improvement in the handling of prisoners.

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