Round Up 22-28 September 2014
Myths of reinsertion circulated notably around the theme of sport. Apparently, the jeux pénitentiaires took place earlier this month and a couple of news sources picked up the story:
including Europe 1 who ran a feature with glossy photos of athletes and brief interviews.
The jury remained out though as to whether sport really does help with ‘reinsertion’ - am interested in the refusal of those interviewed to wholeheartedly affirm the myth of rehabilitation, instead acknowledging the psychological benefits of sport whilst in incarceration along with its limitations when it comes to seeking employment beyond the prison gates. I wonder how such discourse gets filtered and distorted by those seeking to cut such activities from prisons not simply due to funding but also as a result of the resentment felt towards those appearing to participate in activities denied to those on the outside due to their own financial and temporal constraints.
Indeed, the Front National released a statement complaining about misrepresentation around the Nice prison saga. According to Marie-Christine Arnautu - the decision to renovate prisons and detention centres was one of the biggest failures of Sarkozy’s government. Create more places, to hold more inmates - yes. But not at the risk that conditions in prison might improve for those already there. Zero tolerance.
One of our favourite narratives appeared again last week - the tales of mobile phone smuggling which as well as meriting reports dedicated to this single issue - proposals to scramble phone signals in prisons and a protest by guards outside Seysses prison - it also worked its way into other stories about poor working conditions for prison guards. The assault of three guards by an inmate in Vivonne prison, the most serious incident since the prison opened, has led to calls by the CGT pénitentiaire for a major enquiry into conditions. Particular focus of the France Bleu report was taken up with the circulation of mobile phones by gang leaders following the banning of full body searches during visitation.
Yet if the possibilities for self-representation via mobile phones and USBs is cause for alarm in the French media, an authorised photography project is celebrated - photgrapher Jean Hinker spent 2010 working with inmates in Mont de Marsan prison. The result is a photo essay Les Hommes de la prison. The images featured in the story run by Aquitaine Online seem, regrettably, to embody the same cliches long associated with prison photography - empty cells, close-ups of bars and barred wire, men standing in shadows [Philippe Artières identifies such photography in his editorial on La révolte de la prison de Nancy : 15 janvier 1972, a collection of photographs which strives to provide a different framing of incarceration]. It will be interesting to see whether the book Les Hommes de la prison itself moves beyond this well-established aesthetic of incarceration. More to follow…