New wave of prison guard protests hits France
n the second guard protest this week, scores of Villepinte personnel blocked access to the prison by setting up barricades, which they then set on fire.
They held signs reading “My prison is going to burst, 200 percent over capacity” and “Guards beaten with impunity, this is our reality”.
Union leader Erwan Saoudi said the protest was the guards’ “call for help”.
“We won’t give up until a real plan of action is presented to make prisons functional,” French daily Libération cites Saoudi as saying. He also called for the hiring of more personnel.
Last month in March Villepinte announced it was at 200 percent of its capacity, with nearly 1,100 inmates in a prison built to hold just less than 600. The overcrowding prompted the prison director to contact the Ministry of Justice to ask that no further inmates be sent there, due to lack of space.
Some inmates sleep on mattresses on the floor, and cells can be crowded with three prisoners or more, according to guards and union leaders.
Overcrowding gives rise to a variety of problems. Guards have claimed that, because the prison is understaffed, it’s difficult for them to adequately keep an eye on every inmate. This can in turn allow illicit activities such as drug consumption and cell phone use to go unseen or unpunished.
The poor living conditions can also create fertile grounds for radicalisation, according to guards, and increase violence between inmates as well as between inmates and guards.
French prison problems widespread
Earlier in the week hundreds of guards from Fleury-Mérogis, another prison outside Paris, protested against a recent incident in which six guards were injured when breaking up a fight between inmates.
Fleury-Mérogis is the largest prison in Europe. With some 4,500 inmates, it is at roughly 150 percent of its capacity.
On Wednesday Fleury-Mérogis guards and union leaders announced an ultimatum: if national prison administrators don't meet with them within the next week by 21 April, they'll organise more protests.
The announcement came after a meeting with the two groups on Tuesday failed to satisfy the guards' demands. The latter have asked for more personnel, extensive searches for contraband in the prison, and the repeal of a law requiring them to justify strip searches.
The national prison administrators said they could transfer some 350 inmates to other prisons in France, but they didn’t accept the demand to thoroughly search the prison, saying it would be too expensive.
These measures were deemed “insufficient” by guards and union leaders, prompting them to fix the 21 April ultimatum for another meeting.
Presidential candidate sides with guards
Eurosceptic Nicolas Dupont-Aignan was the only presidential candidate to go to Villepinte Thursday morning.
He supported the guards, calling them "the forgotten of the republic", and criticised the government for "treating them like dogs".
His programme calls for creating 40,000 more spots in French prisons.