Tuesday, May 11, 2004

"Catastrophic" and "Disgraceful" Cell Conditions Leading to "Violence"

Is it Abu Ghraib? Riker's Island? Non, it's Vincennes, Lyon, Nice, and elsewhere dans l'Hexagone.

We've already heard about how suicides among France's inmates surpasses the number of death penalty executions in America (in a country five times less populous).

Now, it turns out — and this, as France's media and intellectual élite launches broadside after broadside on Washington's treatment of prisoners in an Iraqi prison, (noting the obvious racism in the fact that the prisoners that the Americans jailers were abusing are people of another color/race/religion/nationality) — that the jails of France aren't so gung-ho as they would like to think.

At the end of April, as Le Monde writes in an article, members of an ecumenical organisation for helping foreigners in France judged cell conditions in France's administrative retention centers (where illegal foreigners are placed) "catastrophic", "wretched", and "disgraceful", because of their (or leading to) filth, promiscuity, and violence.

Sylvia Zappi goes on to make a summary of La Cimade's list of delightful amenities, including: "intolerable promiscuity" in the Lyon prison; harassment of women refusing to prostitute themselves in the Seine-et-Marne one; and rats in Paris cells and toilets.

How about it, Plantu? How about a drawing of Chirac as a Nazi-era kapo?

(Thanks to Steve Flint)


Anonymous said...

I still don't understand why you compare the suicide rate in French prisons with the death penalty in America. I'd love to get a suicide rate in the US jails for comparison. Google can't find it unfortunately...


Douglas said...

Amatriciana, Eric hasn't done this in the past. I have.¶Human Rights Watch cites a report by the US Centers for Disease Control (the link they give is now dead) to say that, "According to The 2001 Corrections Yearbook, the average suicide rate in prison was 0.26 per 1,000 prisoners, or twenty-six per 100,000, two-and-a-half times the rate of suicide in the U.S.population at large, which for 2000 was 10.6 per 100,000."¶

The US prison population doubled between 1990-2003 and now sits at just over 2 million. According to this French talkshow, the French prison poulation reached 61,397 on July 1, 2003, almost seven times lesser. ¶

The US population overall is five times larger than France's. That would mean that, accounting for proportional differences, the proper number for comparison is 104 prison suicides to France's 120. But given that the US incarceration rate is so much higher, the US number would have to be reduced significantly in order to arrive at accurate comparison. I'm not a statistician so I can't tell you how to do that.¶

A further complication is that the length of detention in France prisons is higher than average in Europe — I don't know how it compares with that of the US but the risk of suicide in prison would obviously increase with the length of time spent in the slammer.¶

As you can see, the data is not very good and the analytical framework is necessarily complicated. However, it seems the US does a better job of preventing suicide behind bars.¶

Indeed, as I pointed out last time, this page reproduces statments of one Jay Haycock of the Bedford Policy Institute (no Web site, a place in Boston, it seems).¶

"Studies of prison suicides indicate that in selected countries prison suicide rates exceed general population rates by a factor of 3 to 15. According to the most widely accepted figures in the literature, the one apparent exception to this pattern is the country with one of the world’s highest incarceration rates and largest prison populations, the United States. Although the most widely diffused studies on US prison suicides contend that the raw numbers show suicides in state and federal correctional institutions one and one–half times the suicide rate in the general US population, in fact sex, age and race adjustments to those raw numbers effectively eliminate the excess suicide mortality in US prisons. If such an exception exists, that fact has far reaching implications for suicide prevention in every country’s prison systems. If the US prison suicide rate is lower than that in other countries by comparison to general population findings, then either prison experience is very different in the US; US prisoners do not bring the same vulnerabilities to prison experience as prisoners do in other countries; US prison suicide prevention is considerably more sophisticated than that in other countries; or some combination of all three. In any case, there exist some relative immunities conferred by some factor or factors in the US experience, one or more co-efficients of preservation. The existence of such co-efficients would have extremely important theoretical and practical ramifications.¶

This paper examines the methodological underpinnings of apparent American exceptionalism in prison suicide rates. The paper argues that these procedures are flawed even by comparison to the promiscuous use of official statistics in studies of suicides among the general population. The weaknesses in these methodological procedures compromise the most widely accepted conclusions about suicides among US prisoners. Presenting markedly divergent data from a study of suicides in one state’s prison system, the paper considers the possible implications that such differences might have for our understanding of US prison suicides."¶

Clearly, it is not exactly fair to compare US executions and French prison suicides... but why do you take what we say on this blog so seriously anyhow?

Anonymous said...

Erik, this is in reply to a piece you published yesterday, May 10. Douglas replied to my comment, and I sent him something that you may also wish to pursue. I just want to be sure you get a look at this information also. I've appreciated your spirited defense of America. Good luck in digging something up.

Douglas, this is in reference to your reply to my comment on "France's Efforts to Equate Iraq with Algeria," posted by Erik on May 10. You replied, "Indeed, anonymous, there'll be lots more about that this week if I can get to it." Perhaps I can help you with that. I was in France in the fall of 1999 and I read an article in Libération about a mass murder of Arab-Algerian protesters in Paris or possibly throughout France during the Algerian conflict on October 17, 1961. I don't have access to the archives of Libération, but as I recall the article stated that on that date a curfew had been called in France, or was already in place, as the anti-war protests had been getting out of hand. The article claimed that up to 1,000 Arabs and/or other protesters had been killed by the French police that evening for curfew violation and perhaps other "infractions." The exact number was never known, the perpetrators were never brought to any sort of justice, and supposedly most of the corpses dissappeared floating down the Seine. I believe the article was published on October 17, 1999 to commemorate the atrocity, which still begged, I repeat, begged, to be investigated. I have always wanted to know more about that incident, and I hope that you have some luck digging up anything on that if you decide to pursue it. Good luck!

Erik said...

Merci, Monsieur Anonyme.

(Although I wouldn't call it a "spirited defense of America" per se. It's a spirited defense of truth and common sense. But, as it happens, the result is often (always?) the same…)

Anonymous said...

have a look what's going on in german prisons




....ouuupss i did it again !!!