On 1 May, a journalist from France Info visited a detention centre for migrants (Centres de retention administrative – CRA) near Paris. They confirmed that there are new arrivals every week; at the time, 59 detainees were at the centre. In the absence of international flights in destinations of non-european countries, detainees awaiting deportation are held indefinitely in CRAs. A French deputy who also visited the centre declared that the sanitary conditions were not sufficient to avoid the spread of Covid-19. Detainees and staff members are not wearing masks.
On 20 April, the General Inspector of Places of Deprivation of Liberty called out the Ministry of Interior in a letter to close all CRAs, given the impossibility to respect barrier gestures. The Inspector pointed out the ‘’the health risk weighting on those detained’’ which she described as a ‘’serious violation of their fundamental rights’’. The Interior Ministry refused to give to the journalists the number of deportations that were made since the beginning of the pandemic. However, they declared that since deportations were still happening, it was not necessary to close CRAs.
In the Bois de Vincennes CRA, also located near Paris, several cases of Covid-19 were confirmed at the end of April. Despite a request from the Val-de-Marne mayor, the centre was not shut down, but placements were suspended for two weeks.
On 8 May, there were 118 inmates and 292 staff members with confirmed cases of Covid-19 in French prisons. However, the Observatoire international des prisons denounced the absence of tests in many prisons, which casts doubt on the numbers declared.
The prison’s occupancy level dropped under 100 percent by 29 April, when the Ministry of Justice announced that there were 11,500 less inmates since the beginning of the pandemic. In some detention centres, staff members reported that this reduction allowed them to work in better conditions and ensured that inmates were in individual cells. However, on 4 May, the Minister of Justice declared that the prison population would increase after the confinement. She announced measures to avoid overcrowding, such as house arrests for short prison terms.
This reduction in prison population is due mainly to the reduction in judicial activity, rather than releases. Amnesty International underlined, on 6 May, the fact that France introduced a prison sentence during the confinement for repeated violations. While the confinement ended on 11 May, the country is still in a state of sanitary emergency, during which all pre-trial detention times are automatically extended. On 4 May, 5,300 inmates had been released from prisons.
In 140 prisons across the country, inmates are making fabric masks intended for hospital staff, earning 6 euros a day. In the meantime, they do not have masks for themselves, a situation that was denounced in a letter from 150 people to the Ministry of Justice. Families and friends of inmates wrote that the sanitary conditions in prisons, considering Covid-19, weren’t sufficient.
- Amnesty International, ‘’Covid-19 en France : dans les prisons aussi, le droit à la santé doit être garanti’’, 6 May 2020, https://www.amnesty.fr/actualites/covid-19-en-france-le-droit-a-la-sante-en-prison
- Journal l’Envolée, ‘’Objet : Mise en danger de la vie des personnes privées de liberté’’, 30 April 2020, https://blogs.mediapart.fr/journal-lenvolee/blog/300420/lettre-de-plus-de-150-proches-de-detenu-e-s-la-ministre-des-tribunaux-et-des-prisons?fbclid=IwAR0nAuO2_vRYytlaDd-sFCCWqIs-c4YSGZsVAESO2YEuNIFzSwEmEghDqaI
- P. Mirkovic, ‘’Entretien Coronavirus : Nicole Belloubet détaille comment la justice va gérer l’après-confinement’’, 4 May 2020, https://www.ouest-france.fr/economie/entreprises/crise-du-coronavirus/nicole-belloubet-l-experimentation-des-cours-criminelles-departementales-sera-etendue-6824909
- B. Dodman, ‘’Dans les prisons françaises, “la double peine” des détenus face au Covid-19’’, 28 April 2020, https://www.france24.com/fr/20200428-dans-les-prisons-fran%C3%A7aises-la-double-peine-des-d%C3%A9tenus-face-au-covid-19
- J.B. Jacquin, ‘’Dans les prisons de France en temps de confinement, « on a enfin le temps de faire du bon boulot »’’, Le Monde, 7 May 2020, https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2020/05/07/prisons-on-a-enfin-le-temps-de-faire-du-bon-boulot_6038906_3224.html
- Observatoire International des Prisons, ‘’Section Française’’, updated on 8 May 2020, https://oip.org/covid19-en-prison-lessentiel/
- France Info, ‘’VIDEO. Masques inexistants, WC inondés, expulsions retardées… L’inquiétude monte au centre de rétention du Mesnil-Amelot’’, 5 May 2020, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/replay-jt/france-2/20-heures/video-policiers-et-etrangers-inquiets-du-covid-19-au-centre-de-retention-du-mesnil-amelot_3950205.html
- Contrôleure générale des lieux de privation de liberté, Letter adressed to the Ministère de l’Intérieur, 20 April 2020, https://www.cglpl.fr/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Lettre-ministre-CRA-Vincennes-Mesnil-Amelot-VD-2.pdf
- Actu Val-de-Marne, ‘’Coronavirus. Centre de rétention de Vincennes : un maire demande sa fermeture à la préfecture’’, 20 April 2020, https://actu.fr/ile-de-france/vincennes_94080/coronavirus-centre-retention-vincennes-maire-demande-fermeture-la-prefecture_33120917.html
- Detainees in the Courtyard of the Mesnil-Amelot Detention Centre, (FranceInfo, “VIDEO. Masques Inexistants, WC Inondés, Expulsions Retardées… L’inquiétude monte au Centre de Rétention du Mesnil-Amelot,” 5 May 2020, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/replay-jt/france-2/20-heures/video-policiers-et-etrangers-inquiets-du-covid-19-au-centre-de-retention-du-mesnil-amelot_3950205.html)