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  • Inside Marseille

    Inside Marseille's infamous Baumettes prison | Photo: AFP

Published 19 July 2016

France has broken a new record of prison overcrowding, in a context of increasing security responses to terror attacks.

With almost 70,000 people in prison, France has broken its own record for prison overcrowding as security intensifies across the country in response to recent terror attacks.

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The historic record of 69,375 inmates was reached on July 1, according to the latest figures issued Tuesday by France's Penitentiary Administration Office, bringing into question France's efforts to address prison overcrowding — an issue repeatedly condemned by human rights groups and international organizations.

While French prisons have a formal capacity of 58,311 prisoners, conditions in prison have dramatically deteriorated in recent years, with 1,648 inmates forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor.

Commenting on the figures on radio station Europe 1, Justice Minister Jean Jacques Urvoas confirmed that eight prisons were especially overcrowded, with the occupants at 167 percent of the recommended total. Urgent construction for 4,300 more places is required, he said.

In September, the Justice Ministry will submit proposals to Congress aimed at addressing the issue.

One of the main causes for the record-breaking number of inmates is linked to the recent security policies implemented during the state-of-emergency following November's terror attacks, according to a penitentiary source anonymously quoted by AFP.

Among the effects of the recent policy, the penitentiary office found a 14 percent increase of accused people awaiting trial in prison while the proportion of sentenced inmates remained stable.

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In March, a report issued by the European Council of Human Rights ranked France seventh out of 47 member states regarding prison overcrowding, while the European Human Rights Court regularly condemns French prisons for "inhumane and degrading treatment."

The population of France's aging, rundown prisons has started growing by a third over the past decade, largely because of tough sentencing laws introduced under former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

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