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France: Justice ministry plans to fit landline phones in every prison cell

Michel Smith 5 Jan 2018

France: Justice ministry plans to fit landline phones in every prison cell

Justice ministry of France plans to install landline phones in prison cells in an ambitious attempt to improve rehabilitation rates and reduce rampant mobile phone trafficking behind bars. The justice ministry said on Tuesday it had called for bids to operate the service after successful tests at one prison since 2016.

But inmates’ new freedom to call up to four pre-approved numbers at any time of the day will not come cheap, with one prisoner advocacy group warning that calls could cost up to 80 cents ($0.97) a minute.

France has struggled against the smuggling of mobile phones into prisons, like other countries. More than 19,000 handsets and accessories were seized in the first half of 2017, for an overall prisoner population of about 70,000. The ambitious move will reduce tensions.

“There have always been call boxes in prisons, but the inmates need to be accompanied by personnel, which requires time and availability. It gets complicated,” the justice ministry said.

Prison solves problem of illegal mobile phones

In the month of July 2016, a prison in Montmédy, north-eastern France, installed phones in every cell, which led to a 31% drop in the number of illicit mobile phone seizures in the first half of last year compared with a year earlier.“The phones have eased tensions inside the prison,” the ministry said. “It helps with civil reintegration by maintaining family ties,” it added, saying the goal was to “cut cellphone trafficking”.

“Sometimes, an inmate will have four people in line in front of him for the phone in the hall. But when it’s his turn, it’s time to be back in the cell. Things get tense,” said Christopher Dorangeville, the head of the CGT Penitentiaries union.

In newspaper report of Le Monde, telecom operators would place bids in the coming days to install the phones in 50,000 cells at 178 prisons across France, starting at the end of the year. The operator must finance the installation costs, and would make its money by charging prisoners for calls.

A French advocacy group, The International Prison Observatory,  welcomed the move. “A phone in each cell allows a degree of intimacy when speaking with family members,” said the NGO’s François Bes. “More importantly, the fact that you can call when you want can let them speak with children after school.”

“The problem is the high cost of talking. Currently a call costs about 80 cents a minute,” Bes said. Even after the cost was renegotiated at Montmédy, down to about 65 cents, “that’s still way too expensive for most inmates,” he added.

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