‘Torture by heat’: Video of ‘unbearable’ French prison conditions divides internet
Last week, the prisoners of the Villepinte facility in Seine-Saint-Denis, northeast of capital Paris, complained about the unbearable conditions in their cell during the European heatwave and shot a video to back their claims.
“It’s 50 degrees (Celsius). It’s impossible to breathe,” one of the inmates says in the footage, which was filmed illegally and passed to Europe 1 by the relatives of the inmates.
« Il fait 50°, on ne peut plus respirer... On est 4 dans une cellule pour 3, c'est irrespirable, c'est inadmissible (...). Si vous pouvez faire quelque chose, faites-le » : à Villepinte, des détenus dénoncent leurs conditions d'incarcération.— Sihame Assbague (@s_assbague) July 28, 2018
The footage shows four men held in a narrow poorly lit cell of nine square meters, which was initially designed for two people. The inmates, who are all undressed to their underwear, show that the window is sealed by Plexiglas that prevents circulation of air.
“It’s been two hours, since we called for our supervisors, but they don’t want to come,” the author of the video says.
The cell is also quite messy, with various objects, including clothes and what looks like a smashed fan, lying on the floor. The prisoners said the damage was done by the prison guards, who “broke everything” during an unannounced night check.
However, the prison authorities said that the video was staged by the inmates to besmirch the facility. The prisoners broke the window a day before the footage was made and the Plexiglas was used to protect the cell from a hailstorm, one of the officials at the Villepinte prison, David Laurent, told France Info. Moreover, the plastic was installed in a way that the prisoners could’ve easily slid it to the side and let the air in, he added.
Laurent said that the inmates will face disciplinary measures because owning a phone, which was used to make the video, is illegal in prison. However, he acknowledged that there really is a problem of overcrowding in the prison, saying that that the number of people currently held at Villepinte exceeded its planned capacity almost twofold.
The video caused a heated debate online, with many users calling the conditions “inhumane” and saying that they were ashamed of the French prison system. Those people committed violations and were sentenced to prison, but not to “being cooked in an oven,” one the commentators argued.
However, many of the twitterati chose to take the side of the prison authorities, saying that the inmates shouldn’t have gotten behind bars in the first place.
“Remember that these people are in prison. It won’t hurt to be in bad conditions as it will only avert them from ever returning there,” one of the opinions was.
Another commentator stated that that inmates got what they deserved and the “criminals should be treated worse than dogs.”
Some were angry about the fan and other appliances that were in possession of the prisoners. They argued that French prisons were “hotels” or “paradise” compared to those in other countries and that the inmates should be happy to find themselves at Villepinte.
“There is too much freedom here [in France], that's why people abuse the system and constantly want it easy,” one of the users wrote.
“They are the victims? Sorry, I can’t seem to have any compassion for ‘these people’... They chose to be there themselves. But rest assured, with the justice system we have, they’ll be able to resume their criminal activities soon,” another added.
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