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"Fear of prison riots as Sarkozy rejects pardon" by Kim Willsher, The Guardian

9th July 2007

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy will not give a traditional Bastille Day pardon to thousands of prisoners in the country's overcrowded jails, raising fears that disappointed inmates could riot.

Mr Sarkozy, elected in May on a tough law and order programme, said he was keeping his election promise. "There will be no collective amnesty," he said.

However, prison officers, who had hoped the annual mass pardon would ease the pressure on France's dilapidated jails, warned the decision could prompt riots.

The prison officers' union said in a statement: "The reduction of sentences are much anticipated and have a real psychological impact at the heart of the prison population."

In an interview in Journal du Dimanche, Mr Sarkozy said he had been presented with a decree proposing the release of 3,000 prisoners.

"A person jumps in the Seine and saves three children who are drowning and it turns out he has a criminal record. The individual pardon could have a role here," he said.

"But a collective pardon in order to sort out the prisons I don't accept."

France's 188 jails have a capacity for around 50,000 inmates but are currently holding nearly 61,000, according to official figures. Conditions are expected to worsen if a new law imposing a minimum sentence on repeat offenders is passed by the French parliament this week.

The traditional mass pardon of prisoners on July 14 marks Bastille Day, when in 1789 French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison in Paris and freed the seven prisoners they found locked inside. Their action marked the beginning of the French Revolution.


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