At Fleury-Mérogis prison, visiting rooms have been adapted to comply with certain health instructions.
ERIC DESSONS / SIPA
According to a note from the Minister of Justice consulted by AFP, 117 detainees were diagnosed positive for Covid-19 as of October 20.
The prison population, considerably reduced during confinement, rose from 58,926 detainees at the end of May to some 62,000 detainees in this month of October.
This situation worries the prison wardens.
The SNP-FO union is now calling for establishments to be placed "under cover" to avoid further contamination.
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For several weeks, concern has been swelling within penitentiary establishments.
As outside, the number of cases detected among detainees continues to increase.
On October 5, 47 people in prison tested positive for Covid-19.
Nine days later, according to prison administration figures, 88 inmates were infected, then 117 on October 20.
The number of cases has more than doubled in three weeks.
Despite a restrictive adaptation of prison life to health instructions, the situation is deteriorating, accentuated by an increase in the number of people placed in detention since deconfinement.
In reaction, Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti called on the attorneys general on October 23 to promote alternatives to imprisonment.
But some unions in the prison administration consider this policy insufficient and are now calling for the prisons to be put “under cover”.
Adapted and reinforced instructions
As outside, health measures were intensified in detention on October 14.
When Emmanuel Macron announced the establishment of a curfew from 9 p.m. in certain metropolitan areas, the prison administration for its part disseminated to all establishments a new health "doctrine".
For remand centers or penitentiary centers located in the maximum alert zone or identified as "clusters" (more than three proven cases), external interventions have been reduced and the wearing of masks made compulsory for inmates upon release. of their cell.
Positive cases are systematically isolated from the rest of the detention.
Since the deconfinement, several establishments have adapted their visiting rooms to guarantee a distance between prisoners and their relatives.
For Flavie Rault, general secretary of the National Union of Prison Directors (SNDP) and deputy director of the Health Prison in Paris, this new note did not “upset” the daily life of the teams: “We have been applying these modalities since back to school already.
Our practices have not changed since the resumption of judicial activity, with a maintenance of fortnights for all detained persons arriving from outside for example ”.
Massive screening operations have also been carried out with certain regional health agencies (ARS), underlines François Bès, coordinator of the “investigation” pole at the International Prison Observatory (OIP).
Relieve congestion to better protect
At the same time, the Minister of Justice sent a “dispatch” on 23 October to all the attorneys general.
“The Keeper of the Seals has asked the public prosecutor to request as much as possible alternative sentences to detention, as long as it is appropriate, of course.
This can be home detention under an electronic bracelet, for example, ”develops the Chancellery.
The objective is to reduce the arrival of new inmates in prisons and to encourage magistrates to favor sentence adjustments.
After a significant drop in the number of people imprisoned - made possible thanks to orders signed in March by former Minister Nicole Belloubet - the figures have started to rise again.
“We went from 13,000 to less than 10,000 detainees in Ile-de-France after confinement.
We have just passed the 11,000 mark and things are going very, very quickly, ”illustrates Flavie Rault of the SNDP.
If the prison population has not reached its pre-confinement level, some establishments are already overcrowded.
Prison density now reaches nearly 103% on average, according to AFP, making the application of certain health instructions more complex.
"The fortnights become very difficult to manage, because when we create places to isolate the sick, we pile up the rest of the detainees in the other areas of the detention", notes the Deputy Director of Health.
"The fortnights are becoming very difficult to manage"
Last March, the suspension of visiting rooms, the ban on travel by outside speakers and the slowdown in judicial activity had made it possible to prevent the virus from spreading behind closed doors in detention.
“We must return to this management that prevailed during confinement.
The number of clusters is increasing, we have never had figures like that, we must no longer wait and put the establishments under cover ”, storm Emmanuel Baudin, general secretary of the SNP-FO union.
A letter was sent to this effect to Eric Dupond-Moretti, said the trade unionist, remained unanswered so far.
The proportion of staff affected by the virus is also a source of concern, for Flavie Rault: “The risk of team exhaustion is a reality.
During the first wave, we had few patients.
And as some services have stopped working with the slowdown in judicial activity, staff have come to lend a hand to help colleagues in detention.
Today it is the other way around.
The contact case prevention policy has destabilized some teams who have had to confine themselves.
A toughening of the measures in detention is not unanimous, however.
“Reconfining the detainees does not seem appropriate to us,” said François Bès of the OIP.
“We have to follow as much as possible what is recommended outside the prison.
By guaranteeing the wearing of a mask, distancing and disinfection of the hands, this makes it possible to maintain the visiting rooms.
The psychological impact of eliminating these moments between detainees and their relatives should not be overlooked, ”he warns.
An analysis shared by Flavie Rault of the SNDP: “We have to be careful.
The continuity of visiting rooms makes it possible to ensure the calm of the detention and to avoid collective movements ”.
The Chancellery, for its part, indicates that it opts for a "gradual" response, adapted "to the local situation".
But the current pattern could quickly change.
Faced with a surge in positive cases, the executive is expected to announce new measures before the end of the week.
A time excluded, the general reconfinement of the population would now be on the table.
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