The size of France’s prison population is expected to break their all-time record this month even as overcrowding, jailhouse attacks and suicides have increased even faster.
France’s incarceration rate isn’t considered high but the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly censured France due to poor hygiene, denial of basic rights and an alarming suicide rate.
Former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy built his political career on being tough on crime. He pushed for harsher sentencing for minor crimes such as theft, assault and being in France illegally, which researchers estimate now accounts for two-thirds of those in short-term jails.
Another feature of the French penal system is the widely-accepted estimate that Muslims compose 70 percent of the inmates, despite composing just 5 to 10 percent of the general population. But addressing the poverty and discrimination French Muslims regularly face, which may help explain such a high incarceration rate, requires time, money, and a political courage that many analysts say just isn’t present.
One positive for prisoners here is that they don’t face the death penalty, but many say that doing hard time in France is much harder than it should be.