French prison guards suspend strike to mull proposals

Prison guards across France have staged protests to demand greater security following a string of attacks by inmates
AFP

Paris (AFP) – Two of France’s three major prison unions suspended their protest action on Saturday as fresh proposals on security and employment were submitted to striking staff after a week of tension.

Guards across the country have staged strikes and protests following a string of attacks by inmates and scuffles at jails, including Europe’s biggest, Fleury-Merogis just south of Paris.

“We have sent the text to our rank and file members, and we are waiting for their feedback,” general secretary of the CGT Penitentiaries Christopher Dorangeville, told AFP. 

CGT, as well as the majority union UFAP-UNSA, has been taking part in negotiations which started Tuesday with the prison administration.

However, the third major union, FO Penitentiaries, did not join the talks and has called for an even tougher stance.

Friday’s draft agreement proposes the creation of 1,100 guard jobs over four years, “including a first tranche of 100 jobs from 2018”. Currently, the prison service employs 28,000 guards in 188 establishments.

The text, which was sent to Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, also proposes measures to improve security for guards and a defined regime for “terrorist and radicalised detainees”, allowing for a “total lockdown on the management of most dangerous detainees”.

FO fiercely opposes the proposals, with the union’s deputy secretary general Yoan Karar labelling them as “window dressing”.

– Reforms promised –

On Friday in Borgo on Corsica, three inmates, including one under surveillance for Islamic radicalisation, attacked two guards with a knife, wounding one of them seriously.

On January 11, German convict Christian Ganczarski, a former top Al-Qaeda militant, attacked three officers with scissors and a razor blade at a high-security prison in northern France. 

Two other attacks followed in less than a week, prompting guards to launch a nationwide strike calling for improved security at often overcrowded prisons.

Prison authorities said the strikes were affecting 80 of France’s facilities. 

French guards have long complained of low pay, insufficient staffing and overcrowding — the Fresnes prison near Paris is currently at 200 percent capacity.

And they increasingly warn they are endangered by inmates under the sway of Islamic extremists.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised to outline plans for an overhaul of the prisons system by the end of February, expected to include facility renovations and expansions to house an additional 15,000 inmates.

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