Towards an “employment contract” for prisoners

The Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, announced on Sunday March 7 his desire to put in place a form of employment contract for detainees in his law “for confidence in the judicial institution” which he will present in April to the Council of Ministers. “There cannot be a gap between the prison and the rest of society, or else we consider that the prison is a separate society”, he said on M6.

The code of criminal procedure is indeed clear: “The labor relations of imprisoned persons are not the subject of an employment contract. “ Only one ” engagement Act ” governs the working relationship between prisoners and the prison administration.

“For several years, there has been unanimous support from associations and supervisory bodies to stress that the lack of a worker-detainee status is a real problem”, emphasizes Nicolas Ferran, head of the litigation department of the International Prison Observatory (OIP). Along with others, the association continues to challenge the abuses of prison work: “Opacity” and “Arbitrary” in the allocation of positions, low pay, non-compliance with basic rules on working time or safety, etc.

Seized in 2015, the Constitutional Council had nevertheless validated the act of engagement, but “After heated debates”, emphasizes Nicolas Ferran. And clearly indicating “That it is open to the legislator to modify the provisions relating to the work of imprisoned persons in order to strengthen the protection of their rights”.

“We cannot ask prisoners to respect society, to be able to reintegrate into it (if) we deny (their) dignity and (their) rights ”, for his part pleaded Emmanuel Macron in 2018 before the National School of Prison Administration, in Agen, calling for the establishment of “A contractual link with the guarantees attached to it”. But since then, nothing.

The draft law, which is not final and has not yet been presented for the opinion of the Council of State, provides for a “Prison employment contract” with still imprecise outlines but which would not be a contract of employment strictly speaking.

“It is not possible to apply in detention certain provisions of the labor code such as, for example, paid leave”, we plead on the side of the chancellery where we nevertheless underline the desire to allow prisoners to access certain social rights. “A reflection is underway on the remuneration”, we insist, while critics note that prison work is still too often paid by the piece and not by the hour as it should be.

An important point because if the remunerations of the prisoners allow them to improve their ordinary life, it also serves to compensate the victims and to have a nest egg for the exit. “A guarantee for their reintegration and fight against recidivism”, we insist in the entourage of the Keeper of the Seals. In addition, the work of detainees could allow them to contribute for their retirement or unemployment insurance but also to supplement their personal training account (CPF).

For the OIP, this germinating advance should not, however, hide “The lack of both quantitative and qualitative work” in prison. Only a large quarter of prisoners have access to a job, a figure that has been halved in twenty years. “And that does not mean a stable and regular job: many work only a few hours a week”, explains Nicolas Ferran who also points to the low qualifications of jobs “Offering only few outlets at the exit”.

On this point too, the ministry wants to be offensive. In September, it launched the Product in Prison (PePs) label, certifying that companies that make prisoners work guarantee them decent working conditions, offer them training and support their professional integration upon release. He also wants to develop work in prison, giving the example of Emmaus which runs a carpentry workshop at the Oermingen detention center (Bas-Rhin) where 70% of inmates thus have access to a job.

Still isolated initiatives, especially since, here too, the question of remuneration plays a role. “We have to find the right balance, do we plead to the ministry, so that the price is not a deterrent for companies. “


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