Theatre, sport, training… What activities are offered to prisoners?

Faced with the outcry from the right and the extreme right after the broadcast of “Kohlanness”, the game inspired by Koh Lanta in Fresnes prison (Val-de-Marne), the producer recognized a “controversial act”, assuring that “the goal was not to shock”.

If people detained for short sentences “are reduced to eating, sleeping, eating, sleeping with possibly an hour of sport, they will be on the margins of society when they leave”, estimated Enzo Angelo Santo. However, in reality, to promote reintegration, activities are beautiful and well organized in all French prisons, and they are even compulsory.

A legal obligation

As stipulated section 27 of the Prisons Act 2009“every convicted person is required to carry out at least one of the activities proposed to him by the head of the establishment and the director of the penitentiary service for integration and probation as long as its purpose is the reintegration of the person concerned and is adapted to his age, his abilities, his handicap and his personality”. According to the Code of Criminal Procedureit can be “teaching, training, work and socio-cultural and sporting or relaxation” activities.

While the majority of prisons offer sports classes “supervised by teachers from the prison administration, a bit like physical education classes in schools”, others are more surprising, “like boxing, yoga, or fencing”, explains Wilfried Fonck, national secretary of the UFAP UNSa Justice, who adds that there are also sports outside the prison, such as horse riding, mountain biking, climbing. On the cultural side, some establishments organize theater classes, with an outside speaker, writing workshops, animal meditation, the arrival of an orchestra, and sometimes even outings outside the museum “to discover a painter, a exhibition or just a museum, because some have never seen one in their life,” adds the trade unionist.

And these activities are not new, they have always existed, recalls Dominique Simonnot, the General Controller of places of deprivation of liberty. “It’s the charm of France. As long as things are not known, everything is fine, as soon as it is known, it blows up. There has never been a problem with other activities. There, we see inmates having fun, we immediately cry foul,” she laments.

One hour of activity per day on average

If the law provides a right to activities for prisoners, “it does not set any duration and no limit”, explains Matthieu Quinquis, President France of the International Observatory of Prisons (OIP), “it is at the discretion of the penitentiary Administration “. According to the Ministry of Justice, detainees benefit on average from 3h40 of activity per day on weekdays and 24 minutes on weekends. “In reality, we are more on one hour of activity per day, integrating the walk, that is to say almost nothing. The majority of detainees are locked up 22 hours a day,” he laments.

“In fact, in the end, very few of them do these activities because the administration is not able to offer activities to the entire prison population”, adds Wilfried Fonck. Of all the activities offered to prisoners, sport is the most practiced, ahead of training, schooling and work, explains the OIP in its report.

And for good reason, it is what costs the least: “A football lesson requires a ball and we can offer it to around twenty prisoners. It costs less than training as a cook, a trip to the museum or a pottery activity,” explains Matthieu Quinquis. Because, as often, everything is a question of budget. “That of the prison administration is three billion euros per year. It may seem like a lot, but you have to fund prisons, inmates and staff salaries. There is not much left for the activities,” says Wilfried Fonck. “We are forced to refuse training or education to prisoners for lack of budget,” he adds.

Prison overcrowding in question

Especially since not all prisoners are “eligible” for these activities, either because they are not interested, or because they do not have the profile because of their dangerousness or their exposure. ‘isolation. “The fact that a prisoner can participate in an activity is left to the free will of the head of the establishment and the probation service”, explains Wilfried Fonck, who specifies that the choice is made according to the prison career of the prisoner. , his behavior in detention with the agents and his fellow prisoners and the time served.

If prisoners are actually very few to practice regular activities, it is also because the prisons are overcrowded. In December 2021, the occupancy rate of prison establishments reached 135.8%, according to figures from the last report of the Controller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty. “The number of guards, the size of the rooms, of the courtyard, everything is calculated according to the number of theoretical prisoners. Inevitably, in reality, there are not enough agents and places for the activities. Everything is undersized,” laments Dominique Simonnot.

“We are talking about a karting in the courtyard of Fresnes, while the real scandal is in the prison cells, in the lack of activity. The scandal is to have bed bugs, cockroaches in your cell, to hold back from eating so as not to go to the toilet in front of your fellow prisoners, not to go for a walk to do your business quietly, it’s that’s the real scandal,” she said.

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Theatre, sport, training… What activities are offered to prisoners?

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