PRISONS: BEHIND THE WALLS OF CLICHÉ
Sixty thousand detainees in French prisons: surely the problem can’t be all that hard to solve!
The Rencontres, in their own way, are part of the media, and this exhibition based on the report of France’s Inspector General of Prisons, Jean Marie Delarue, shows just how the world of French gaols, far from being an aid to social reintegration is, rather, an insult to the human condition. This is a call to look beyond the standard ideas about prison.
The exhibition also demonstrates the limitations of photography, which cannot convey the nuances of everyday unhappiness in prison. In a photo a TV set, a workshop and a library seem to offer possibilities which in fact are non-existent for most prisoners, and certainly not available on a regular basis. The rules of hygiene and safety are flouted every day, the psychological stresses are chronic, and the laws regarding the minimum wage and access are broken by the state itself. None of this is visible in a photo.
Pictures of a new prison seem to suggest a solution; but the image doesn’t tell you that new prisons have a higher suicide rate than old, dilapidated ones. Three people in a cell is something you can see; but what you don’t see is that one inmate standing means two lying down, because there’s nowhere to sit. And with prisoners spending 22–24 hours a day in their cells, it’s easy to imagine their physical and psychological state.
This is definitely not photojournalism, but rather an alarm signal regarding one of democracy’s least well known instruments.
François Hébel, exhibition curator
Excerpt from Law no. 2007-1545 of 30 October 2007::
‘The Inspector General of Prisons is an independent authority whose duty it is, without prejudice to the prerogatives attributed by the law to the judiciary or jurisdictional authorities, to monitor the conditions of incarceration and transfer of persons legally deprived of their freedom, so as to ensure respect for their fundamental rights.
Within his field of responsibility, he takes no orders from any authority He cannot be relieved of his duties before his term has expired The authorities in charge of places of imprisonment cannot oppose a visit by the Inspector General except for grave, imperative reasons relating to national defence. The Inspector General may demand from those authorities all information and documentation required by the carrying-out of his mission. In the course of his visits he may speak, under circumstances guaranteeing the confidentiality of what is said, with any person whose participation he sees as necessary.
At the end of each visit the Inspector General makes known to the relevant ministers his observations regarding the state, organisation and functioning of the site visited, and the condition of those imprisoned there Each year the Inspector General submits a report to the President of the Republic and to Parliament. This report is made public.’
The 2009 report is published by Dalloz.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL
By their very nature prisons are places known only to those who live or work inside them.
The images of prisons long in circulation reflect what it is considered desirable to see or show of these places of deprivation of liberty, as illustrated by the recent exhibition on Paris prisons at the Musée Carnavalet.
The Inspector General of the prisons which are the source of the photos on show here, has the sole task of checking the true state of affairs in prisons so as ensure, as the law requires of him, the protection of the fundamental rights of persons in captivity.
So far he has visited some sixty penal establishments, spending several days in each from morning to evening, in order to observe life there, to speak confidentially with prisoners and personnel, and to note its functioning.
In each case the inspectors took photographs to clarify their observations.
Certainly, these images do not tell all. There is nothing of the anguish, solitude and silence. (’Who can express prison?’ asked Pierre Goldman. ’Who can express the silence?’) Nothing of the cries, the apprehension, the impossibility of defining or expressing oneself But at least they show the basics of the system. It seemed useful, nonetheless, to add certain commentaries so as to give a clearer idea of the context, i.e. of the observations made during the inspection visits and detailed in the individual and annual reports, which can be consulted on www.cglpl.fr.
Jean-Marie Delarue, Inspector General of Prisons
Exhibition supported by Picto and HP.