Supervisors in charge of visiting rooms must ensure that the barrier gestures are properly observed. - Lewis JOLY / SIPA

  • The Fleury-Mérogis remand center (Essonne) had 2,655 detainees on May 27, i.e. nearly 1,000 people less than the occupancy rate measured before the confinement began.
  • Over the past two weeks, the prison has gradually returned to its usual rhythm with the resumption of family visiting rooms and workshops.
  • A progressive deconfinement for detainees which requires adjustments and a permanent reorganization of daily life in detention, always subject to strict health rules.

In the early hours of Thursday, the building reserved for families is almost deserted. Mia * is one of the rare relatives of detainees to have made the trip to the Fleury-Mérogis prison (Essonne). After two months of forced separation to limit the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, the 2,655 detainees in the largest prison in Europe are gradually reconnecting with the outside world.

However, the resumption of the family visiting rooms and the restarting of the workshops required numerous adjustments to comply with all the health regulations. A device sometimes deemed restrictive by the relatives met that day but generally accepted by the detainees who fear both for their health and that of their families.

Avoid contagion as much as possible

Since the end of confinement and the resumption of visiting rooms on May 13, this is the second time that Mia has found her companion. A relief after two months of total separation, but also a source of "frustration". “It's hard to see yourself but not to be able to hug or even touch your hand. The fact of accumulating the wearing of the mask, being separated behind a plexiglass window and having to stand one meter from this window, I find that it is a lot, “says the young woman at the end of her visit.

These measures, developed in collaboration with the doctors of the prison medical unit, aim to "protect prisoners" so far spared by the epidemic, insists the director of the establishment Nadine Picquet. In total, less than five positive cases were detected within the prison.

Before each visit, relatives of detainees must sign a release in which they agree to comply with health regulations. - Lewis JOLY / SIPA

“We know that the virus comes from outside. If a whole series of measures has been put in place, it is to avoid exposing detainees as much as possible, not to annoy them, ”she said. “We installed plexiglass panes above the tables but we felt that it was not necessary to completely separate the box by an entire partition. We wanted to make everyone responsible. On the other hand, physical contact is prohibited, the wearing of a mask - provided by the establishment - is compulsory for prisoners but also for their loved one. And marks on the ground have been arranged to respect social distancing, ”continues the director.

Despite these strict conditions imposed on visitors and detainees, no major incident has been reported since the recovery, said one of the monitors in charge of the visiting rooms: "We had some concerns at the start but overall, all measures are respected. The detainees were understanding and things are going well. ”

Detainees worried about loved ones

In this context of health crisis, prisoners can only benefit from a single family visiting room lasting 45 minutes per week and reserved for one person. Children cannot yet visit an incarcerated parent. Like Mia, all visitors agree, by signing a waiver, to comply with these instructions, otherwise their visit permit will be suspended. For prisoners, in the event of non-compliance with sanitary measures, placement in the fortnight in the wing dedicated to Covid-19 cases is compulsory.

For Tessa *, who also came to visit her boyfriend this Thursday, some of these measures could dissuade family visits: "In the case of my spouse, I know for example that her parents will not dare to go alone to detention . They will not come if they cannot be accompanied. "

"At first, he didn't want me to come see him! Now it's better, he is reassured "

But the concern is mainly felt within the cells. If the demand for visiting rooms was high on the family side as soon as the resumption of visits was announced, the detainees seem more cautious. "During my consultations, I mainly saw people who said they were afraid for their families, fear for their loved ones more than for themselves," said Dr. Forissier, head of the prison's medical and psychological service. A feeling expressed by Mia's companion: "At first, he didn't want me to come see him! Now things are better, he is reassured ».

Many projects to come

As outside, life inside the prison gradually resumes its past rhythm. With a new major parameter. Like other establishments during the confinement, Fleury-Mérogis saw its staff reduced by nearly 1,000 detainees since March 17. Exceptional conditions which made it possible to better adapt and prepare for the recovery concedes the director: "It is a plus, it is undeniable and it allows us to do more individual monitoring of prisoners".

Like the visiting rooms, after two months off, the workshops have been able to resume since the start of the week. A total of 400 inmates work in around twenty workshops spread throughout the walls of the huge building. And there again, health measures have been strengthened. This Thursday morning, a dozen inmates are installed behind their work station. "They are alone at their table, must wear a mask and the shifts for breaks are more frequent and are done in smaller numbers," explains the assistant director of the establishment.

The workshops resumed on May 25 after two months of arrest at Fleury-Mérogis prison. - Lewis JOLY / SIPA

If calm strikes within the detention, management knows that the facility will most likely face an upsurge in new arrivals. Since the deconfinement, around fifteen new detainees have been arriving at the remand center every week, a figure which has increased over time. And many projects remain to be implemented.

How to ensure the resumption of religious offices or the practice of a sport in cramped and unventilated rooms? How to maintain good compliance with health measures with an increasing number of staff? “Resuming all collective and indoor activities looks complicated, recognizes Nadine Picquet, we have to adapt, even if it takes a little more time. The key is that everything is done gradually but we don't want to take any risks. ”

* All first names have been changed


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  • Coronavirus
  • Covid 19
  • Deconfinement
  • Justice
  • Inmates
  • Fleury-merogis
  • Jail