Round-up for 15-21 September 2014.
After a long hiatus, Reportage prisons returns hopefully with a bit more commitment this time.
The main stories this week on prison sites consisted of the plan to increase the size of Aix prison by over double its current capacity and proposals for the new prison site in Nice.
laprovence.com reported the ‘unanimous’ welcome the project to develop Aix prison has received given the current conditions (147% capacity at present). Included in the project are ‘des espaces non anxiogènes’ - patios and gardens aimed at producing a calming effect. At the same time, showers will be built into cell space to reduce the need to move inmates. An excellent example of reformist ideology without any serious questioning as to why after only 15 years, Aix is unable to house so many inmates or, more precisely, why there are so many to be housed? The over-imprisoned population.
More contentious are the proposals to be build a new prison to replace Nice’s old one in the Quartier Saint Roch Vauban. A story on this ran in Nice Matin last week and incited an angry response from local residents who wondered why they had been neither informed nor consulted on this. Their statement can be read here and cites the lack of infrastructure, schools, healthcare etc in the area, questioning why these are not taking priority over the development of a new prison.
The standard lacklustre lamentations concerning the conditions within French prisons were offered this week. Firstly, concerning the state of prisons in Guadeloupe - an interview was given by Jean-Francois Forget, Secretary General of the Ufap-Unsa Justice in the run up to the ‘élections professionnelles' being held in December. Decrying the overpopulation, insalubrity and violence seems like an act of bad faith here and one which simultaneously demands further funding, pretends to give a shit whilst ultimately blaming the inmates for the conditions.
Having spent the past few years working as a ‘citizen observer’ on the disciplinary committee at Agen, Hélène Erlingsen-Creste has published a book, L’abîme carcéral on the failure of prisons. I’ve downloaded the book to my kindle so will follow up with some thoughts when I’ve had chance to read it. From the brief summation on culturebox, it seems Erlingsen-Creste has two main points - ‘overpopulation’ and ‘recidivism’ with which to prove her point that prison isn’t achieving its mission. I wonder to what extent there is any sustained reflection on what this mission is beyond the regurgitation of the myth of ‘réinsertion sociale’ which continues to legitimise incarceration as rehabilitation in France and elsewhere.
A number of stories about prison and labour ran in the French press this week.
Le Figaro ran a story concerning the proposal made by UMP Jean-François Mancel that inmates should be obliged to work in order to contribute towards the cost of their incarceration. Similar initiatives are in place in prisons in the US. Le Figaro, suggested this would constitute a ‘serpent de mer législatif' According to Mancel: «Il n’est pas acceptable que les dépenses consacrées aux détenus soient intégralement financées par les contribuables». In 1987, legislation removed obligatory work from prison. However, a moralising discourse has pervaded discussions since. UMP Richard Mallié made the statement that «L’oisiveté est mère de tous les vices». Inmates are obliged to take up at least one of three activities proposed to them whilst in prison with a view to working towards their ‘réinsertion sociale.’ However, what is really at stake is an ethico-moral intolerance of those incarcerated and a desire for prison to assume a more openly retributive function here.
The ministry of justice is on a recruitment drive with 1500 jobs in prisons available. Apparently, the campaign went largely unnoticed due to lack of funding for advertising. This is lamented by La voix du nord who considers the stability of prison employment as something highly desirable during a time of wider economic uncertainty. Reading Arthur Frayer’s Dans la peau d’un maton (2011) seems to indicate otherwise. The article has some interesting facts about the entry level requirements and salary of a prison guard within the French penal system which continues to be state-run.
In Marseille, riot police (CRS) forced prison guards protesting conditions to return to work. La provence.com features a series of photos from the confrontation which demonstrates the systemic tensions operating between different forms of law enforcement and the dominance of the police state.
Original article here
Smuggling and other tactics
Every week there seems to be a story in the French press about mobile phone smuggling in prison. I continue to be puzzled about the fascination with what must be as common a practice as drug smuggling. This week Le Figaro reported on the sentencing of a 51 year old man to 8 months prison for helping his son smuggle a phone into prison. The severity of the sentence seems to reflect the anxiety towards the smuggling of mobile phones. The main reason given tends to be the potential for facilitating organised crime. However, one might ask whether possibilities for documentation of the carceral space are not of greater concern.
With both inmates and guards being forced back to work (see stories above), it is not surprising the lines between the two groups becomes blurred. In Metz, according to a story run by Ouest France, an inmate managed to open two bank accounts by posing as a prison guard.
Prison as themepark
The main story to run this week concerned the inclusion of La Santé prison in Paris in the Journées européennes du patrimoine. The prison was opened to the public on 20 and 21 September 2014. Visits sold out within hours of booking opening. The last existing prison in Paris (dating from 1867) closed last year for renovation and is due to reopen in 2019. Thus, not only is the dark tourism involved in exploring the site one predicated on a future as much as a past but the tiny pocket of time in which the prison is put on display to the general public makes this an even more exclusive attraction for those in search of the ultimate alternative Paris. A question some of the articles reporting on the event touch on but fail to answer concerns the very notion of ‘patrimoine’ and the problematic nature of including a prison under this tag.
For ease of reference articles include:
L’idée, c’est de faire une friche artistique et culturelle, un lieu d’échanges, de résidences… (Catherine Bugeon, adjointe au maire déléguée à la culture) The former Sainte-Anne prison in Avignon has been turned into an artist space beginning with the exhibition « la disparition des lucioles ». Detailled if overly glowing account from Bondy Blog.