Emma, Eppie and Sam visited the Centre Pénitentiaire de Longuenesse on 12th July 2018. The caseworkers are in contact with the prison all the time due to the number of Brits detained there and the high level of contact with their families, who are desperate for information about how this unfamiliar system works. It was hoped that they would gain a better understanding of the conditions, access to healthcare, and the processes around early release, in order to more efficiently respond to families’ and prisoners’ questions and to build good relationships with prison staff.  At the time of the visit there were 127 foreign nationals at Longuenesse of a total of around 750 prisoners. 19 of these were Brits. All foreign prisoners are offered a school place to start to learn French right away (and this can lead to work elsewhere in the prison).

They discussed many issues with the social work team and the prison directors. One of the most common enquiries that caseworkers deal with is about money transfers as many families send some funds to their relatives in Longuenesse. At this particular prison, families need a visit permit to be able to send funds which creates an additional hurdle at an already stressful time. After discussions with the prison directors, Emma, Eppie and Sam were able to gain a better understanding of this process. Of course, some prisoners aren’t receiving any funds at all from friends or families but it was reassuring to confirm that they can still apply to receive €20 a month to pay for basics. They also learned that on arrival, before prisoners have funds in their account, they will be given bedding and basic toiletries and clothing if they have none.  

 

                                                                     Longuenesse Prison, France

Caseworkers are also frequently asked about communication rules such as whether a prisoner can make phone-calls and if they’re allowed to receive parcels. In most French prisons, to obtain permission to phone home the family member’s name, phone number and relationship to the prisoner should be provided. There can be a delay between requesting permission and receiving approval for a nominated number/person to call which can be frustrating for people when they’re desperate to know that their relative is ok. Although parcels of clothes are not allowed to be sent to the prison without getting special permission, they can be sent via a local branch of the St Vincent de Paul charity. They must not weigh more than 5kg and only clothes and books can be included. The same rules apply if taking a parcel in person when visiting. 

After discussing these issues with prison staff, Emma, Eppie and Sam, were able to do a tour around most parts of the prison including the accounts department and the medical department, and they spoke to a number of prison staff who work in different areas.  They were also able to meet with several prisoners who told them more about life within the prison and the difficulties they faced.

It was mentioned that the practice of keeping serious offenders apart was beneficial for general equilibrium. It is also interesting to note that there were reports of overcrowding in the remand wing with people sleeping on the floor when three or four were put in a two person cell, however in the sentenced wing this isn’t so much of a problem.

Prisoners Abroad would like to thank the staff at Centre Pénitentiaire de Longuenesse for allowing the visit to take place.

Sam’s blog about the trip will be published soon