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The strip search to watch the detainees? What the law says ?

The strip search to watch the detainees? What the law says ?

Prison guards have launched a strike movement following the assault of six colleagues in a juvenile prison (this proves that, contrary to what our policies say, minors also go to prison!).

With the generalization of intrusion of objects from outside (drugs, cell phones), radicalization, and overcrowding… everyone agrees that the working conditions of prison guards have become difficult.

But we are surprised to hear that their main demand in the face of this climate of violence does not relate only to an increase in human and financial resources to build new prisons, or improve prison conditions ... No, they are asking as a priority the repeal of the current law that regulates the full search of detainees. And not to put an end to this degrading practice, but, on the contrary, to exercise it at their convenience.

Why such demands? To understand it, let's see what the law provides.

Article 57 of the penitentiary law of November 24, 2009 regulated full searches by prohibiting their generalization. They can only be considered if the search by palpation or the electronic detection means (gantries and metal detectors) prove to be insufficient.

Then, to exercise it, the guards must to justify strip search of the detainee by:

  • the presumption of an offense: There must be a suspicion that an inmate has introduced transmitted objects or drugs, for example, during a visiting room.


  • the personality of the detainee: That is to say those with a dangerous profile posing a risk to the safety of people or to maintaining good order in the establishment.

This law was amended on June 3, 2016, to allow full collective excavations if there are suspicions of the introduction of illicit objects or substances, regardless of the profile of the detainee : Once decided, everyone must go there.

This worsening of the law already marked a notable regression in terms of human rights, yet it is not applied, since all studies show that strip searches have become widespread illegally.

France has already been condemned several times by the European Court of Human Rights for violating Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights according to which "No one may be subjected to torture or to punishments. or inhuman or degrading treatment ”.

The Council of State has often held, and in particular in 2 judgments of June 6, 2013, the responsibility of the State after having noted the existence of systematic full searches of all the people leaving the visiting rooms in the prison of Fleury Mérogis.

(over a period of a month and a half there were 10 visiting rooms, all of the detainees of which were strip searched!).

Strip searches as a means of pressure are contrary to human dignity and our current law is considered to be somewhat unprotective towards detainees.

However, it is this law, which already offers them full powers, that the prison guards want to see repealed in order to carry out their full searches in a discretionary manner and without having to justify themselves.

In law, it's all about balance. Between respect for the fundamental freedoms of detainees, the requirements of public order and the constraints of the public prison service, the 2016 amendment has already dangerously tilted the law in favor of prison guards.

Difficult to go further, especially since such practices leave little hope for an appeasement of prison conditions because, as the wise men of the European Court of Human Rights point out:

“Systematic full searches not justified and not dictated by imperatives of security can create in the detainee the feeling of being the victim of arbitrary measures. The feeling of arbitrariness, that of inferiority, of anguish… and that of a deep attack on the dignity which the obligation to undress in front of others causes… can characterize a degree of humiliation exceeding that… which inevitably involves the body searches of detainees ”.

(judgment of 20 January 2011 of the ECHR condemning France for inhuman and degrading treatment)

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