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French prison guards protest lack of resources to contain radicalised inmates

Prison guards at Alencon, in Conde-sur-Sarthe, speak through a fence with colleagues blocking the entrance, 6 March, 2019
Prison guards at Alencon, in Conde-sur-Sarthe, speak through a fence with colleagues blocking the entrance, 6 March, 2019 Jean-Francois Monier/AFP

French prison guards blocked the entrances of at least 18 prisons on Wednesday in a show of solidarity for two colleagues who were stabbed by an inmate at a high-security facility at Conde-sur-Sarthre in Normandy. But the movement is larger, with prison guards warning they do not have enough resources to address the growing numbers of radicalised inmates.

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On Tuesday two guards were seriously wounded when a prisoner, Michael Chiolo, stabbed them with a ceramic knife likely smuggled into the prison by his partner, who was visiting.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet called it a terrorist attack. Chiolo is a convert to Islam, and is thought to have become radicalised while in prison.

French prisons are seen as breeding grounds for spreading of radical Islamist ideas. Most of those responsible for attacks in the country in recent years have spent time in prison before, and radicalised inmates have repeatedly attacked guards.

In a statement, the main CGT trade union said attacks against guards are becoming more common and intolerable, and that the penal population was becoming "increasingly vindictive, aggressive and violent."

“Clearly this attack… recalls what has happened elsewhere,” Christopher Dorangeville, the general secretary of the CGT penitentiary union, told RFI.

Prison workers protested in January 2018 after an Al-Qaeda extremist attacked guards at a high security facility with a razor blade and scissors.

At the time the government promised to increase the amount of space for radicalised inmates, among other reforms, but Dorangeville says it was an incomplete agreement, and it has not been implemented.

Guards overwhelmed

“Today, it’s simple: we’re talking about security. There is a glaring lack of resources. The job is not attractive. We need to work on the pay… in order to recruit enough people to ensure security,” said Dorangeville.

According to the Justice ministry, there are about 1,200 radicalised inmates in French prisons.

Thibault Kapel, the local leader of the Force Ouvriere trade union at the Fleury-Merogis prison outside of Paris, whose guards protested Wednesday morning, says managing radicalised inmates is becoming increasingly difficult.

“We do have specialised means of dealing with them,” he told RFI. There are special holding areas for them, or solitary confinement. “But most of them remain with the general population. What is problematic is that today there is one guard for 80 prisoners, and in that we have to manage radicalised inmates.”

Dorangeville says there is no easy solution to deal with the inmates.

“We have tried to isolate them completely…. We know that is very complicated, because there are many such prisoners. So we need to put in place this complete isolation,” he says. “What we can say today is what is put in place today does not work.”

(with Florent Guignard, Simon Roze)

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