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Prison overcrowding: towards a high-risk year 2022


The 100% occupancy rate in French prisons was only a springtime mirage. They are now back to the level of overcrowding they knew two years ago, on the eve of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. At 1er January 2022, France had 69,448 people detained, according to the Ministry of Justice. This is 11% more in one year, but 1.7% less than the 70,651 in January 2020.

The spectacular drop in the number of detainees observed between March and June 2020, caused by the release of some 6,000 people a few weeks before the end of their sentence and above all the judgment of the courts during the first confinement and therefore new incarcerations, is erased. Justice failed to seize this “historical luck”, as Nicole Belloubet had described it when Eric Dupond-Moretti succeeded him at the Ministry of Justice in July 2020, which had made it possible to match the number of detainees with that of the places available.

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According to the management of the penitentiary administration, 12,561 detainees are today in excess of the places available in the prisons which house them. Thirty-six establishments have a density greater than 150% and a handful even exceeds 200%, such as the Bordeaux-Gradignan penal center, with 728 prisoners, or the Nîmes remand center (407 prisoners).

The hopes of the Ministry of Justice to see the sentencing reform coming into force in 2020 produce its effects in slowing down, if not stopping, the inexorable increase in the incarcerated population will have been short-lived. The new sentence of house arrest under electronic surveillance created by the Belloubet law to replace the small sentences is not successful. As of September 30 (last figure available), 1,363 people were concerned. The use of electronic bracelets at the prison sentence adjustment stage continues to increase. At 1er January, 13,133 people were carriers, with release times controlled by the courts, ie 14% more in two years. But this increase does not translate into less recourse to prison.

Decrease in day parole placements

On the other hand, other forms of sentence adjustment, although encouraged by criminal policy circulars, do not seem to be of much interest to magistrates. Placements in semi-freedom, requiring the convicted person to return each evening to his penitentiary establishment, do not take off. The average occupancy rate of these semi-freedom centers is 65%, while it reaches 135% in remand centres, these prisons reserved for short sentences and people in pre-trial detention.

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