On February 17, a day of interactions and debate on the topic of custodial sentences in France, the following report was presented: “Prison as the lowest social rung.” The study revealed a pernicious cycle of poverty and prison. It was led by Emmaüs France and Secours Catholique and supported by Fondation de France.
Prison accelerates poverty
This new study, which surveyed 1,100 inmates, former prisoners and their family involved in custody issues, makes an unambiguous statement: prison is largely for poor people. Only half the inmates had a job (usually a precarious one) before their sentence. Those without any resources at all represented 16% of all prisoners and only 25% of them stated they had access to permanent and independent accommodation when they left prison. Strictly financial parameters aside, the study also focused on inmates’ limited access to culture and social interaction. The data is once again very telling, with 56% of 17 to 27-year-olds having no diploma. As to social interaction, 45% of them had no visits during their detention, a situation which reinforces the feeling of extreme loneliness and exclusion.
“This is a crucial report, because we are lacking data on prisons and prisoners. Based on the information collated from inmates, the study shows that the current custodial model does not fulfill its rehabilitation role. Prisoners are unable to prepare for their return to normal life under good conditions. This can in fact increase the feeling of exclusion from those serving a sentence, and place them even further on the margins of society,” explains Théodora Esanou, head of the Fondation de France Prisons Program.
The study shows that, in its current state, prison acts a poverty accelerator and leads to former inmates’ inability to act in all aspects of their life. Chronic overcrowding in prisons can rise to 150% of accommodation capacity and lack of resources do not allow for an appropriate rehabilitation journey, despite the essential leverage it provides prisoners in taking charge of their own life. Currently, 63% of those who leave prison with no support re-offend within five years, compared to a third of those who have been rehabilitated by professionals. And yet, rehabilitation, be it in the form of a diploma or a job, remains too thinly spread.