In prisons “five inmates and guards” have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic

Dominique Simonnot, the General Controller of places of deprivation of liberty, revealed on franceinfo on Wednesday, August 25, that since the start of the Covid-19 epidemic “five inmates and guards died in all, at the cost of enormous restrictions”, in French prisons. A source of contamination was detected in a prison in Saran, near Orleans, where 14 inmates tested positive out of 152 tested. “In closed places, when the virus enters, it is inevitably catastrophic”, deplores Dominique Simonnot.

franceinfo: How many clusters have been reported in French prisons?

Dominique Simonnot: There were quite a few clusters, the biggest example being in Tours, where half of the prison was infested a few months ago. What we deeply regret is that the Minister of Justice did not take the decision to vaccinate prison staff and detainees. 30% of inmates are vaccinated and have received at least one dose. From the start, we have advocated putting the package on vaccination, now we are worried, to be very vigilant. Five inmates and guards died in all, at the cost of enormous restrictions.

I do not understand that the Chancellery is taking a step back from the initiatives of certain prison directors or sentence enforcement judges who are offering reductions in sentences to those who are vaccinated.

Dominique Simonnot,

to franceinfo

It is just one way of encouraging vaccination. I find that less cynical than what the Chancellery had passed as a law, by saying that there would be reductions in sentences for inmates who will work, will be treated, will go to activities. All these activities are almost inaccessible to detainees because there are not enough and there are too many people in prison. The vaccine has the merit of existing.

As of June 7, 2021, the prison administration announced that 6,493 inmates out of 65,384 had been vaccinated. How to explain this low number?

We did not take the bull by the horns, we did not go to the prisons saying: “You are vaccinated first because it is dangerous, because you are locked up in remand centers, at 3 per cell, because we want you to be able to see your families, to return to activities.” We preferred to restrict all activities, restrict visiting rooms, so it came at the cost of big sacrifices. People are deprived of their liberty, it is prison, it is normal, but they were deprived of a lot during the pandemic and it continues. In Nanterre, there was a cluster, we are going to have normal activities again, but so far we no longer had any.

In March 2020, the government announced to facilitate the release of detainees in the grip of the pandemic. Would you have liked this measure to be renewed?

It has been called for on several occasions, at the same time as the vaccination, in the face of this dangerous situation. The pandemic has been contained at the cost of enormous restrictions on the prison population, which falls on the supervisors. The atmosphere of a prison falls on the prison staff. Take people out, like Nicole Belloubet did in the spring, vaccinate everyone. We were not listened to, which is disappointing.

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