Prison policy in France

Prison policy in France has moved on a great deal since the creation of the French Criminal Code in 1791: then, prison was a place of punishment and correction for the prisoner. Since 1945, France has seen the development of a genuine policy of encouraging inmates to go back to the "straight and narrow" and of social reintegration.

The many reforms undertaken since the early 1980s have focused on two main points:

- improvements in the conditions of detention and prisoners’ rights (notably with regard to healthcare provision),

- the development of alternatives to custodial sentences.

The most recent Acts (the so-called “Perben Acts”) go down this road:

- Act No. 2002-1138 of 9 September 2002 on General Principles and Planning for the Justice System: construction of new facilities and refurbishment of existing prisons,

improvements in prisoners’ living conditions, help for social and employment reintegration and the building of closed educational centres for minors under judicial supervision orders or given suspended sentences conditional on a period of probation.

- Act No. 2004-204 of 9 March 2004 making changes to the criminal justice system to reflect changes in the nature of crime: wider range of penalties to which people found guilty could be sentenced, providing alternatives to custodial sentences.

This policy is implemented by the Prison Administration Directorate (DAP) at the Ministry of Justice, which has two core tasks: enforcement of the decisions of the courts and prevention of reoffending by facilitating social reintegration.

It covers those serving sentences in closed establishments (custodial sentences involving loss of freedom) and non-custodial sentences (involving measures other than imprisonment: supervision orders, suspended sentences or community work).

The idea is "to help reintegrate into society the individuals entrusted to it by the judicial authorities” (under the Act of 22 June 1987) working with partners in the public and voluntary sectors. Since the decree of 13 April 1999, this comes under the remit of the Penal Reintegration and Probation Departments (SPIP – Services Pénitentiaires d’Insertion et de Probation). The latter monitor those serving both custodial and non-custodial sentences.

To find out more

All the information sources below are in French


Bibliographie de la Documentation française

La justice, réformes et enjeux. – La Documentation française, collection « Cahiers
français », n°334, septembre-octobre 2006.
Garde et réinsertion – La gestion des prisons / Cour des comptes. – La Documentation
française, 2006.

Santé, justice et dangerosités : pour une meilleure prévention de la récidive /
Rapport de la Commission Santé-Justice présidée par M. Jean-François Burgelin, procureur
général près la Cour de Cassation. – Ministère de la Justice, 2005.

Le placement sous surveillance électronique mobile / Georges Fenech. – Ministère de
la Justice, 2005

Etude sur les droits de l’homme dans les prisons / Commission nationale consultative
des droits de l’homme, 2004

Les mesures alternatives à l’emprisonnement / Michaël Janas. – La Documentation
française, collection « Regards sur l’actualité », n°300, avril 2004

© Ministère des Affaires étrangères, 2006

Published on 01/05/2007

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