With French prison guards on strike for the tenth day Wednesday, prisoners are getting antsy, confined to their cells and unable to communicate with the outside world. Prisoners’ rights groups are warning that their frustration could exacerbate the violence that prison guards are striking against.
“There’s pressure, insults, daily violence. We all have loved ones, and we all hope for one thing: to see them at the end of the day,” Jean-Charles Allen, a prison guard in the southern French city of Marseille, told RFI. “We tell ourselves: I leave in the morning, maybe I won’t come home in the evening.”
Some 4,000 to 5,000 prison personnel are physically attacked by inmates each year in France.
Overcrowding is at the root of many of the problems. France’s 28,000 prison officers oversee 70,000 inmates in France’s 188 prisons, many of them over capacity. The Fresnes prison, near Paris has 2,800 inmates, twice as many as it was built for.
Guards say they are underpaid for the dangerous work they are asked to do. The service has trouble recruiting. Last week, nearly 70 per cent of those who signed up for the exam to become a prison guard did not show up for the test.
“Young people come, and then leave, preferring to go work for MacDonalds,” says prison guard Lilianne Balbedon. “A public service job is competing with MacDonalds! That’s a major problem. The job is not appealing, and we have trouble recruiting. They leave because they realise that their lives are in danger.”
Guards went on strike on Monday, 15 January, after a prisoner attacked guards at a facility in the north of France. They are demanding a 20 per cent pay increase, more hires, and tigheter surveillance of violent criminals.
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