National prison days, from 21 to 27 November 2022

If the prison bursts into the media landscape, it is very often under the angle of bloody and/or sordid crime, if not the “misadventure” of some big fortune or political figure whose various protections have not could not prevent the conviction. Yet daily life in the prison is much less flamboyant. Everyday enter establishments
penitentiaries, anti-heroes, modest shadows whose fate seems marked by a bad star, to whom life has not stretched too many poles and who have only tumbled towards the back of the decor. Their stay in the shade will further aggravate a situation that was already not flourishing, breaking the meager family or integration ties that could still exist. 45% of people felt that they felt in a situation of poverty before their incarceration, 70% felt that they were during their detention.

Being poor in prison, what does it mean concretely and how is it measured?

First of all, it means having insufficient resources to meet the cost of living in detention (estimated at €200 per month) but also the outside expenses that continue to accrue. However, we wish not to stick to a strictly monetary vision of poverty, but to a global vision, that is to say both social, cultural (knowledge of the language, digital tools) in health (psychic, somatic) and in social relationships (family, friends). But perhaps above all poverty in self-confidence, lack of bearings, ability to regulate one’s emotions and to identify peaceful means to find one’s place in society. And since many and many poor people enter without real solutions to help them reintegrate when they leave, the prisons are increasingly full. Because of this chronic overcrowding, a poverty appears that was not planned at the start: that of being permanently under the gaze of fellow prisoners, a poverty that is otherwise painful, that which affects dignity and intimacy. . Promiscuity also blurs the ability to reflect and question his behavior.

Let’s start from the discrepancy between what the prison public service is supposed to produce and what it actually produces. The functions of punishment and reintegration classically assigned to the prison system result rather in a function of neutralization, in directing the person – even a category of individuals – towards a dead end; the common trait of members of this category is poverty and exclusion; prison would function as a way of managing this poverty at a lower cost. De facto, the prison would have experienced (in spite of itself?) a mutation of its function as a legal tool into a political tool. It would have become a “parking lot for the poor”. The slope at the entrance to this car park is very slippery when you are poor, and conversely very difficult to
go back up. The result of the execution of the penalty would thus be to cut the social fabric, instead of reconnecting. Imprisonment thus aggravates poverty which very often existed prior to entry into detention.

How to get out of the vicious circle of poverty before, during and after prison?

In prison passivity, the person loses part of his resiliency, so that the aggravation of poverty during detention largely hampers his chances of reintegration upon release. The circular published this year on the fight against poverty is the beginning of an answer, but which does not take the question by the right end: the challenge is not to attenuate the harmful effects of the impoverishment which occurs from made in detention; it is a question of leaving the infantilizing vision of the assistantship which reduces the individual to his socio-economic situation by omitting the search for his capacities. The GNCP wishes to become more involved in a dynamic of accountability, citizenship, self-determination of people. Very concretely, the fact that in a remand prison, which includes the majority of the prison population, only one person in five has access to paid employment and that this one, for equal work, is paid 4 to 5 times less than outside, the possibility of significantly reimbursing the victims is heavily burdened. Some will never have enough of a working life to be able to pay the fines and damages to which they will have been condemned. Thus, downstream from the prison, poverty still leaves its mark, its stigma. According to one prisoner, anyone who has “served his sentence should be allowed to start from scratch and not from six feet under”. If instead of pronouncing firm prison sentences for “minor offences”, as in Germany, we were to move towards the penalty of day fine, not only would we declutter the prisons but in addition we would significantly increase the capacity for reimbursement of offenders. Public and private players in the prison world are sketching out solutions so that prison is not the last rung of the social ladder nor the basement of the left behind (the forgotten places?) but the place of a co-construction for that once freed, the person finds in himself, in other citizens, and in the institutions springs to fight against the causes of his poverty.

Notes: 1- About 1% of those sentenced are sentenced for criminal offenses ● 2- Catholic Relief/Emmaus survey “At the last rung of the social ladder, prison: 25 recommendations to break the vicious prison-poverty circle”October 2021 ● 3- The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture in its report published on April 21, 2022 speaks of the prison as a “human warehouse” ● 4- Circular relating to the fight against poverty among detainees and those leaving detention of 7 March 20225- See the concept of self-determination adopted by the network of Caritas in Europe.

Signatory organizations: National Association of Visitors of Persons Placed in the Hands of Justice Catholic, Protestant and Muslim prison chaplainciesProtestant Federation of FranceLa CimadeFrench Red CrossAuxiliaFARAPEJFederation of solidarity actorsCatholic relief Caritas FranceThe Little Brothers of the PoorUFRAMA.

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Author: National prison manager

National prison days, from 21 to 27 November 2022 – La Cimade