The inequality of lives in times of epidemic

The inequality of lives in times of epidemic

© Antonio Calanni
Prisoners protest after the suspension of visits at the San Vittore prison in Milan.

Exposed to a high level of risk of contamination, detained and detained are forced confined. Does the “sense of responsibility and solidarity” advocated by Emmanuel Macron stop at the doors of overcrowded penitentiary establishments and detention centers?

Grandstand. By calling, Monday, at “Sense of responsibility and solidarity” of the French, the President of the Republic asked them to stay at home with the sole objective of “Protect against the spread of the virus”. He also mentioned the commitment of the state “For the most precarious, for the most destitute, for the isolated”. At no time, however, did he mention those who, apart from the nursing staff, are in the most exposed situation because they are locked up in penal establishments or administrative detention centers. Today there are indeed two kinds of confinement, in France as elsewhere: voluntary confinement, which protects, because it makes it possible to avoid contact with people possibly infected, and forced confinement, which weakens, because it brings together in large numbers, in the same limited space, people who can hardly avoid the proximity of the companions and the companions that are imposed on them.

Prison confinement conditions pose a particularly high risk. At 1er In January, there were 70,651 people detained, including 3,157 women, 10,000 more than ten years earlier, for 61,080 operational places. Overcrowding mainly affects the 40,848 people imprisoned in the 133 prisons, where the density reaches 138%. In reality, the cell overcrowding is much higher than indicated by this rate because of the number of cells reserved for prisoners who have to stay alone, often for health reasons. Almost all the cells are lined, that is to say have two bunk beds, and in 1,614 of them, we had to add a mattress. In nine square meters, three detainees must then cohabit, although individual confinement has been enshrined in law since 1875, was reiterated in the prison law of 2009 and was recalled by the European Court of Human Rights. ‘man. It should be added that almost a third of these prisoners are defendants, in other words are presumed innocent while awaiting trial, and that the other two thirds are mostly sentenced to short terms, corresponding to petty crimes. .

Unjustified confinements

At the same time, more than 45,000 foreigners, including children, are placed in the 50 administrative detention centers and premises each year, with the prospect of removal from the territory or a court decision which will release them. Since the law of September 10, 2018, the maximum length of detention has increased from 45 to 90 days, leading to a doubling of the number of people detained more than a month and a halving of the number of places in mainland France. The conditions of confinement are very harsh, in buildings that are sometimes dilapidated and overcrowded, failing to comply with minimum hygiene rules. Tensions resulting from these conditions generate frequent violence, self-harm and suicide. Victim of an overbidding expulsion, moreover ineffective, the population retained in this system includes foreign nationals with strong ties to France and asylum seekers affected by the Dublin procedure. More than half are released by the judicial or administrative judge, proof that confinement was not justified.

Detainees and detainees are thus forced confines that their confinement in overcrowded places exposes them to a high level of risk of contamination. One case arises, and the entire detained or detained population is threatened. But not only her. Prison staff, in detention, and law enforcement, in detention, as well as all the agents who work in these institutions are also very vulnerable because of their frequent contact with detainees and detainees. Supervisors and sometimes the police are the first to complain about the conditions in which they work, which are also the conditions in which detainees and detainees live. They feel legitimately penalized by the unworthiness of the treatment of those they are responsible for keeping. For everyone, the risk of contamination is certainly not imaginary.

The first cases of Covid-19 appeared in Fresnes, the second largest French prison establishment, with 2,200 prisoners for 1,700 places. One elderly inmate developed severe form and at least four staff members tested positive. One can easily imagine the concern of the hundreds of confined prisoners and the anger of the other prisoners condemned to an even greater overcrowding. This is all the more so since the visiting rooms are reduced, the walks limited, the sports activities canceled, the visits of lawyers rarer, and the exits on leave difficult, if not impossible. It will be remembered that restrictions on family visits in Italy had led to mutinies that left twelve dead.

The situation in France can also become explosive, when several hundred supervisors are already in quarantine, making the working conditions of their colleagues more restrictive and the conditions of the imprisonment of prisoners even more degrading. As for administrative detention centers, several cases of Covid-19 have also appeared there, and Cimade stopped its activity there by questioning the Minister of the Interior on the danger involved.

Getting out of the punitive spiral

The solutions to this untenable situation are simple. If implemented, they would protect detainees and detainees from the spread of infection and give France an opportunity to break out of the punitive spiral into which it has engaged for several decades, while the Countries -Bas, Germany, Portugal reversed the trend.

In prisons, it is necessary to apply the law which imposes individual confinement and which several recent parliamentary reports have recalled. If the Ministry of Justice considers that there are 13,887 excess detainees and 21,075 defendants awaiting trial, to which are added more than 20,000 sentenced to sentences of less than one year of imprisonment, often of a few months, it is easy to understand that many of these prisoners do not have their place in prison, especially under the current epidemiological conditions. Several European countries have sought and found alternatives to short prison sentences, which France itself applies when the convicts are politicians.

In detention centers, it must be remembered that people who are locked up are not accused of any other crime than not being in a regular situation, which turns out to be sometimes inaccurate. The release of the detained persons, which some centers have started and which the Observatory for the confinement of foreigners requests, is a decision of common sense, because there is no longer any way of removing them from the territory for lack of transport possible.

Exposed to infection

The question therefore arises. Can the French State continue to lose interest in the fate of the people it imprisons, often without having tried them, and that it retains, often without legal basis? Is the life of detainees and detainees worth less than that of other members of society so that we accept to expose them to an infection from which we protect the rest of the population? The “Sense of responsibility and solidarity” does it stop at the gates of penitentiary establishments and detention centers?

The government has taken no action to assist these exposed populations of detainees and detainees. But he says he relies on the advice of the researchers. That the members of its Scientific Council therefore demand that all lives be protected equally.

Didier Fassin is notably the author of the Shadow of the world. An anthropology of prison conditions and of life. Critical instructions (both at the Threshold).


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