The Council of Europe’s human rights body has stated that it is “extremely concerned” about the treatment of prisoners in French jails and police stations, warning that people in custody have been “deliberately beaten.”

In a report released on Thursday, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated that it is “extremely concerned about the material conditions of detention” in France after conducting periodic visits to the country in December 2019. 

While the fact-finding mission did not expressly accuse France of mistreating prisoners, it highlighted reports of people in custody being “deliberately beaten,” as well as racism and homophobia and threats of violence with weapons.

The CPT’s investigation raised alarm at overcrowding in French cells, highlighting how occupancy rates in some prisons exceed 200%, with the visit finding 1,500 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The situation led authorities to call for “urgent measures” to be implemented, including providing a bed and at least 4 m² of living space for each prisoner.

The human rights body reported additional concerns about the effect confinement has on the mental health of those placed in solitary confinement, as well as the treatment of those suffering from psychiatric disorders. The CPT described the process of transferring individuals with mental health issues to hospital as “unacceptable,” forcing them to be escorted in “shackles.”

The French government responded to the report by claiming that the conditions have been improved following the 2019 inspection, stating that the prison population has been reduced since March 2020 due to the Covid outbreak.

A second report is expected to be released following a visit to detention facilities in Strasbourg in July 2020, addressing the state of the health measures that were put in place by authorities to protect prisoners during the global pandemic.

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