RMC at the heart of a prisoner transfer, while prison overcrowding breaks records in France

RMC at the heart of a prisoner transfer, while prison overcrowding breaks records in France
RMC at the heart of a prisoner transfer, while prison overcrowding breaks records in France

A very rare thing, RMC was able to follow the transfer of an inmate from prison to court, with a team of ELSPs, armed guards specialized in prisoner escorts. Already numerous, these transfers of detainees could further increase with the Paris Olympics.

6:45 a.m., Varennes-le-Grand prison in Saône-et-Loire. The sun is barely rising as three men prepare for a tense prisoner transfer. These three men Anthony, Cyril and Lionel belong to an ELSP, a local prison security team, in charge of prisoner transfers.

That day, they have to take care of a judicial transfer. A detainee must attend his trial in Nancy. So, he has to change prison, to get closer to the court, a carefully prepared transfer: “We go to the armory to equip ourselves: sticks, two magazines, the weapon, a bulletproof vest and a tactical vest”, explains Anthony. “When we go on public roads, we have to be safe, for us or for the inmate,” he adds.

Having one foot in detention, and one foot outside, changes everything for Anthony. He is also a corridor guard and therefore knows the detainees he accompanies: “I work mainly in detention at the remand center and the detainee who we are going to transfer, I have already worked with him. This allows us to have another approach and know its behavior,” he assures.

Before leaving, the team leader, Lionel, takes stock: “Yesterday, the inmate was not very ready to leave. He is a calm person but can be impulsive,” he warns. After the obligatory searches and administrative formalities it is finally time to leave: guards and detainees board the van, flashing lights on to leave the city.

Judicial transfers and relief transfers

There are several thousand transfers like this each year, all managed by the ELSP, a specially trained supervisory body. And these transfers could explode. Because prisons are always a little more overcrowded. As of April 1, there were 77,450 people incarcerated in France, for 61,629 places, a record.

To combat this situation, 15,000 new prison places must be built by 2027. In the meantime, we have to manage. One of the solutions the State uses in the short term is the transfer of inmates from a saturated prison to another a little less overcrowded, nearby or in another region. We call these “decluttering transfers”, which are in addition to judicial transfers.

During the journey between Varennes-le-Grand prison and the Nancy court, the inmate, escorted by Anthony, Cyril and Lionel, remained calm, under the eyes of the guards who did not take their eyes off him.

After 3 hours of driving, the guards and the inmate finally pass a large white door, that of the Nancy court. There, the car is stopped by a supervisor. He warns Lionel: the last time this inmate was transferred here, he was aggressive. So on the way down, a team is ready to intervene.

“The mission went very well as in 99% of cases”

Finally, the arrival goes well. Presentation, prints and photo and that’s it, the inmate is transferred. Mission accomplished for Anthony: “It went really well, he was cooperative, he showed no reluctance for his transfer, the mission went very well as in 99% of cases.”

In other cases, there are risks specific to ELSP, explains Cyril, the van driver: “The risk is that on the road, a family tries to recover the detainee. Individuals could also attack him , we have to protect him too.

Towards an explosion in the number of transfers?

Lionel and his team do transfers like this every day, sometimes several per day. Last year, the ELSPs carried out more than 31,000 throughout France.

And this number could well increase with the Paris Olympics. The International Prison Observatory and unions in the prison-justice sectors in particular fear that the influx of people and tourists who come to enjoy the Olympic Games will lead to more delinquency and more arrests. Because the Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti recommends “a determined criminal policy providing for rapid, strong and systematic responses” before and during the Games. More arrests, therefore more police custody, which leads to more immediate appearances, and ultimately, more incarcerations.

“It’s going to blow at one point or another.”

And the situation, already critical, risks simply exploding according to Wilfried Fonck, delegate of the UFAP-Unsa Justice union: “Today, it’s a real pressure cooker. It’s going to explode at one point or another. Is -is it on the side of the inmates and we are going to have a boiling hot summer and mutinies or is it the staff who are fed up and we are going to find ourselves with blockages in front of the prisons? We have an increase in the number of prisoners which is combined with a reduction in staff numbers. This is not going to last,” he worries.

His union has also launched a call for massive mobilization soon to push the government to react to this situation.

Lucile Pascanet (with Guillaume Dussourt)

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