Controversy in France over ‘shocking’ go-kart event in prison grounds

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French President Emmanuel Macron has added his voice to mounting criticism surrounding a go-karting event held at a prison near Paris.

Images of French prisoners riding go-karts and holding tug-of-war events over a swimming pool have sparked controversy in France. 

The events took place in July within the grounds of Fresnes prison and were inspired by the French television gameshow Koh Lanta.

Three teams — made up of inmates and wardens — are believed to have been competing in the event known as “Kohlantess,” which was organised by a local resident alongside the prison governor.

A video of the event was posted on YouTube on Friday and has since been deleted.

“Our prisons are not holiday camps where inmates and guards become friends,” said French politician Éric Ciotti of the conservative party Les Républicains. “Where is the respect for the victims and their families who see these criminals having fun while they serve their sentences? Where is the fear of punishment?”

Permission for the event had been granted by the French Justice Ministry but minister Eric Dupond-Moretti has denied knowing about what he called the “shocking” elements, such as the go-karting.

“Many of our compatriots may have been shocked by what they saw in our prisons,” Macron said during a government meeting at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday.

“The Minister of Justice was right to remind [prison authorities] of what should and should not be done.”

“The prison sentence has a meaning in society, it is not the same as exclusion from everything, it is intended to allow for rehabilitation,” he added.

Dupond-Moretti said on Twitter that guidelines for rehabilitating prisons would now be subject to the “express validation of the direction of the prison administration.”

“After the shocking images from the Fresnes prison, I have immediately ordered an investigation,” he tweeted on Saturday.

“If I had known that a go-karting competition was being organised, I would have clearly vetoed it,” he later told reporters.

Fresnes prison has previously held official sporting and cultural events, including a concert with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra in April.

A number of lawyers’ unions have dismissed the French government’s response to the video and argue that Dupond-Moretti has ignored the impact of crime on society.

“Our organisations are indignant that the Minister of Justice should be focused on rehabilitation,” said the Syndicat de la magistrature (SM).

“[He] is ignoring the objectives of the prison sentence … preventing reoffending and protecting society, which cannot be separated from rehabilitation.”