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    New report breaks the silence on abuses by French prison guards

    Credit: Belga

    The International Observatory of Prisons (IOP) on Monday published a report on abuses by prison warders, in which it denounces the “omerta” and “impunity” that reign behind bars.

    “At a time when police abuses are regularly denounced, let us remember that there is another, non-public, space where they should not be tolerated: prison,” wrote Cécile Marcel, director of the French section of IOP.

    The human rights organisation denounced a “system that allows this violence to be perpetrated, even if it is committed by a small number, (…) a system covered by a lead blanket.”

    The report is the result of an investigation that took twelve months. It is based on some 100 interviews, mostly under the cover of anonymity, with prisoners, lawyers, warders, prison directors and magistrates.

    There is no official data or statistics on the subject, so it is impossible to measure the extent of the abuses, the IOP explained. However, it said it had received close to 200 reports of abuses in two years.

    The observatory mentioned “intrinsically conflictual” situations, such as full body searches conducted on naked detainees, and noted that these were “particularly intrusive”, violated the subjects’ intimacy and were therefore “sources of tension“, generating either stints in disciplinary cells as a result of incidents or altercations.

    The issue is worsened by overcrowding in prisons, which leads to the degradation of conditions of detention, thus aggravating the phenomenon, the IOP noted, deploring the “secrecy” that shrouds these abuses. The perpetrators keep coming up with strategies to cover them up.

    Prisoners are afraid of denouncing the abuses for fear of reprisals and of seeing their release delayed, and the esprit de corps among prison warders also feeds into the law of silence.

    In the roughly 30 cases which, according to the IOP, have resulted in convictions in the past 10 years, the guilty prison warders mostly got off with suspended sentences.

    For more transparency, the IOP is calling for the publication of data on the numbers of prison warders investigated and convicted.

    It also said individual and confidential investigations by the Justice Department, similar to those conducted by the police’s disciplinary wing, the IGPN, needed to be allowed.

    Oscar Schneider

    The Brussels Times