The past few weeks in our country have been marked by an explosion of extreme, gratuitous and limitless violence. Bus driver killed, settling of scores with a war weapon, customer of a laundromat attacked with a baseball bat, police officers and gendarmes killed and dragged by vehicles, Champs-Élysées still ransacked …
This violence is unfortunately neither unprecedented nor localized. They reflect the wildness of our society, finally recognized by the current Minister of the Interior. To deal with this phenomenon, many commentators are calling for a stronger police response. Everything should therefore come from the police. This is a major analytical error, the police cannot do everything. The truth must lead us to demand a firmer and more systematic criminal response first.
This ultraviolence, in fact, can be explained first of all by the failure of justice, which has become the weak link in the chain of authority. Our impoverished justice has allowed these new barbarians to benefit from a feeling of impunity fueled by judicial decisions that are too often non-existent, flawed or watered down. Those who challenge the Republican order every day are no longer afraid of it.
The first response to this chaotic situation is to restore meaning to the sentence so that the sanction becomes dissuasive again. The lack of places in detention too often prevents recourse to prison. An unclaimed, but increasingly enforced numerus clausus limits incarceration.
While the public prosecutor’s office is seized each year of more than 4.2 million cases to be processed, 1.3 million of them are considered to be prosecutable and give rise to less than 550,000 sentences handed down, including 280,000 prison sentences. . But in total, barely 60,000 people are detained. Our justice system operates like a gigantic funnel making most crimes go unpunished. For me, a reminder of the law can in no way constitute a dissuasive sanction.
Since March 1, 2020, by decision of the public authorities, there are even 13,800 fewer detainees. The prison population fell from 72,000 to 58,000 inmates. France today has fewer prisoners than when Christiane Taubira was Keeper of the Seals for François Hollande. I see a direct link to the outbreak of violence that we are seeing. How many of these ex-inmates have joined the procession of delinquents and criminals who continue to shine?
Prison embodies the top of the sentence scale and remains the most dissuasive sanction. To weaken it is to weaken the authority of the state.
Finally, we should unanimously admit that we need more prison places. Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017 by promising to build 15,000 new prison places. The promise has since evaporated. At the end of this five-year period we will have at best 3,000 additional places, while at least 20,000 are needed. But achieving this goal is possible. I had proposed in my report on the execution of sentences, submitted in 2011 to President Sarkozy, to create in a few months, independently of construction programs, new places by installing prefabricated modular units in certain prison enclosures and by using ‘old military buildings. In one year, this solution would allow us to create at least 5,000 additional places.
Beyond prison capacity, it is also our entire penal policy that must be changed. Let’s make the protection of custodians of public authority a top priority. It is necessary that minimum penalties sanction from the first act all those who attack or even insult our police officers, gendarmes, firefighters, prison guards. The response must be inflexible and systematic, the slightest assault should automatically lead to a prison sentence.
I call for an end to the almost automatic sentence adjustments pronounced by the sentencing judges, who overturn the sanction handed down by a court on behalf of the French people. Sentences must once again become legible for convicted persons, their victims and society as a whole. The device which currently allows anyone sentenced to less than 1 year in prison to have their sentence transformed into a less restrictive sentence such as the electronic bracelet must be removed.
It is important that the expulsion of permanently convicted foreigners be implemented systematically from the moment the sentence is pronounced. French diplomacy must mobilize to ensure that foreign convicts serve their sentence in the countries of which they are nationals. Our prisons accommodate almost 20% of foreigners. This figure is the best indicator of their overrepresentation in delinquency and has, for several years, been the equivalent of prison overcrowding in France. In this regard, I am in favor of the full reinstatement of the “double penalty”. (Possibility, for the courts, to pronounce against delinquents of foreign nationality, in addition to a prison sentence, an additional sanction of inadmissibility. Without being deleted, it was made more difficult and rarer at the initiative of Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of the Interior, in 2003).
We must also tackle juvenile delinquency. The Minister of Justice recalled the relevance of the law passed at my instigation in 2011 allowing juvenile delinquents to be placed in structures with military-type supervision. The Socialists refused to apply this law which could be implemented immediately. In the same spirit, we must reinstate the second law that I had proposed on parental responsibility, notably allowing the suspension of family allowances to parents who do not fulfill their duty to educate. I regret that President Macron has not reinstated these two important laws suppressed for ideological reasons by the socialist power, just as he did not restore the “floor sentences” adopted under Nicolas Sarkozy and unfortunately repealed under François Hollande .
Finally, patients who come under psychiatry, imprisoned because of the dismantling of psychiatry in a hospital environment, must be taken care of in a health setting and not in a penitentiary. It is a question of humanity and efficiency.
These proposals require resources, courage and will. It’s up to the government to show that it has them.