Street crime crackdown packs Paris-area jail forward of Olympics | EUROtoday

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A police crackdown that goals to clear a poor suburb of petty crime and avenue distributors earlier than the Paris 2024 Olympics is placing stress on an overcrowded jail working at virtually double its capability.

Villepinte is a gray, concrete detention centre within the suburb of Seine-Saint Denis. It lies 2.5 km from the Paris Arena Nord, set to host boxing and fencing competitions throughout the Games starting on July 26.

It is among the many most crowded prisons in France. Opened in 1991, Villepinte takes prisoners from the busy Bobigny courthouse close by for pre-trial detention and quick sentences.

“The penitentiary authority needs to prepare for the worst,” Eric Mathais, chief prosecutor at Bobigny, stated in an interview.

Reducing inmate numbers forward of the Olympics is unrealistic, Mathais stated.

“We need to limit the number of people being imprisoned, but this is easier said than done as I am under extreme pressure from everyone to be clearly more repressive.”

Reuters interviewed 13 prosecutors, judges, legal professionals and clerks working in Bobigny courtroom, who stated that the Seine-Saint-Denis justice system was working on the limits of its capability and prosecuting more and more minor infractions in preparation for the Games.

Read extraParis Olympics 2024: A sport changer for Seine-Saint-Denis?

As of April 8, when Reuters visited Villepinte with native senator Corinne Narassiguin, there have been 1,048 inmates for 582 locations on the jail, based on director Pascal Spenle. The penitentiary can not technically deal with many extra, Spenle stated.

Reuters spoke to 4 inmates who described spending most of their days inside their cells, with as much as three prisoners in cells designed for one, sharing a bathroom and showering each different day. At least 17 prisoners had been sleeping on mattresses on the ground, jail authorities stated.

Yanis, a 20-year-old inmate, stated he’d been on a ready listing for months for a jail work programme. One of his two cellmates, Adil, 25, stated he had not met a reintegration councillor throughout seven months inside.

View of a cell shared by three inmates due to overcrowding in the Villepinte detention centre near Paris on April 8, 2024.
A view of a cell shared by three inmates because of overcrowding within the Villepinte detention centre close to Paris on April 8, 2024. © Layli Foroudi, Reuters

Prison physician Ludovic Levasseur stated he’d seen demand for psychological well being care rise lately whereas overcrowding meant lengthy ready lists for psychologists dealing with as much as 60 sufferers every.

To keep away from reaching breaking level, judges at Bobigny courthouse virtually doubled the variety of early releases from Villepinte and one other jail final yr, to just about 500.

Still, Villepinte was working at 180% of capability in early April, from 177% in April final yr and 168% the yr earlier than, information from the jail and Ministry of Justice reveals.

Ahead of an anticipated surge within the Olympics construct up, Spenle stated, Villepinte plans to switch inmates to different prisons, liberating up 220 locations. In the long term the jail will get a brand new wing, he stated.

In a letter to French prosecutors dated 15 January, Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti known as for “fast, strong and systematic responses” to infractions which will disrupt the Games.

Spokesperson Cedric Logelin stated the ministry was taking measures to cut back overcrowding and stop crime throughout the Games. He stated courtroom selections had been impartial.

‘Short-term options’

Many of the Olympic occasions are being held in Seine-Saint-Denis. The area has the very best ratio of immigrants amongst France’s departments and can be the poorest.

Teachers have been on strike since February, saying colleges within the space are under-resourced. Homeless and traveller populations have arrange camps and squats within the division.

In some neighbourhoods, casual sellers line the streets.

Mohamed Gnabaly, mayor of Ile Saint Denis, a city within the space, stated the Olympics had helped infrastructure and housing improvement delayed for years because of lack of funding.

However, Olivier Cahn, a sociologist at CESDIP, a French centre for analysis on legislation and prisons, stated a reliance on policing and difficult sentencing was disproportionately affecting the poor, migrant and homeless populations.

“All we have are short-term solutions,” stated Cahn.

A zero-tolerance policing initiative launched final yr that targets avenue crimes equivalent to drug dealing and unlicensed promoting within the space was including to the jail inhabitants, prosecutor Mathais stated.

Police deployed 4,000 additional officers in March and April, Seine-Saint-Denis police director of native safety Michel Lavaud informed reporters final week, calling it a clear up and saying the operation supplied security for locals and “tourists, audiences, the families of the athletes.”

“It is just the beginning, we are going to increase the intensity” forward of the Games, Lavaud stated.

The crackdown drew criticism from seven authorized professionals Reuters spoke to.

Fouad Qnia, a defence lawyer at Bobigny, stated heavy penalties for infractions equivalent to unlicensed avenue promoting had been disproportionate and will additional marginalise folks in already weak conditions.

Cigarette sellers

The current policing operation focused avenue distributors, police chief Lavaud stated, together with almost 200 unlawful cigarette sellers, a few of whom had been imprisoned and greater than half of whom had been handed deportation orders.

In one case, on April 3, a Bobigny decide ordered an Algerian man who moved to France two years in the past to chorus from coming into Seine-Saint-Denis for six months, together with in the course of the Games, after he was convicted of promoting eight packets of cigarettes on the road.

He had beforehand been handed a suspended jail sentence and can face two months in jail, possible in Villepinte, if he’s caught once more in Seine-Saint-Denis or promoting tobacco, assigned defence lawyer Jade Paya stated, declining to call the person.

“They are in need. They don’t sell cigarettes because they like doing it,” she stated.

Villepinte homes greater than thirty nationalities, deputy director David Langelois stated. He stated the variety of international inmates was excessive because of detentions on the close by Charles de Gaulle airport and the demographic make-up of Seine-Saint-Denis.

Foreigners had been 21% of France’s jail inhabitants in 2020, whereas they had been simply 10% of the overall inhabitants, based on nationwide statistics. France doesn’t preserve ethnic statistics, however some sociological research attest to an over-representation of Black and Arab males in prisons.

Senator Narassiguin stated folks of color confronted heavier policing and harsh penalties for petty avenue crime. Ministry of Justice spokesperson Logelin stated courtroom sentences had been primarily based on particular person circumstances. He declined to touch upon the ratio of international prisoners.

Brimming prisons

France has probably the most overcrowded prisons in Europe after Romania and Cyprus, with its jail inhabitants rising sooner in 2022 than wherever within the bloc apart from Slovenia, information from the Council of Europe reveals.

Read extraFrance’s overcrowded jail inhabitants reaches all-time excessive – for months on finish

Nationally, French prisons have by no means been fuller, Ministry of Justice information reveals.

The Council of Europe expressed “deep concern” final month on the worsening overcrowding.

To cope with the caseload it expects throughout the video games, the Bobigny courtroom is making ready to pile on fast-track trials, which the International Prison Observatory (OIP) says are eight occasions extra more likely to finish in a jail sentence than normal trials.

The use of fast-track procedures has progressively risen lately, justice ministry information reveals, and has helped drive France’s jail overcrowding, stated OIP researcher Johann Bihr.

The restricted entry to actions and help inside prisons due to overcrowding complicates reintegration into society, stated charity Emergence 93, which works with former detainees.

Adding to the pressure, throughout the Olympics, two automobile washes run by Emergence 93 that make use of former prisoners in Seine-Saint-Denis can be pressured to shut. One automobile wash is in a shopping center automobile park closed throughout the Games, the opposite on a web site rented to the Japanese delegation.

Emergence 93 social employee Manuel Chajmowiez stated the charity had requested Games organisers to permit ex-prisoners to scrub a few of a fleet of 500 vehicles supplied for athletes and officers, however had not heard again.

“For now we have no work to offer,” Chajmowiez stated.