Jails get anti-suicide 'kits'

2009-08-18 22:11

Orleans - France's overcrowded prisons are to be issued with preventive "kits" to help stem an alarming rise in suicide rates among inmates, the justice minister said on Tuesday.

Since the start of the year, 81 prisoners have killed themselves in French jails, which are designed for a maximum of 51 000 inmates but currently house more than 62 000, according to official government figures.

The International Prison Observatory this month put the figure even higher, at 88, attacking what it called a "worrying" trend in French jails.

Under new measures, inmates identified as high risk will receive kits with tear-proof bedding and single-use paper pyjamas to prevent in-cell hangings, in line with recommendations in a recent report on jail suicides.

Starting later this year, prison staff will be offered training on how to detect suicide risks and volunteers will be chosen among inmates to mentor vulnerable new prisoners, who account for the majority of suicides.

Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced the plans after touring a prison in the central city of Orleans, in a bid to stem rising criticism of the country's prisons, which the Council of Europe rights watchdog has repeatedly slammed as overcrowded and dilapidated.

Jail suicides have been on the rise in France since 2007, when 96 inmates took their lives, a figure that shot up to 115 last year.

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