Overpopulated French prison ‘infested’ with rats and bed bugs

The French state system is being taken to court over the proliferation of rats, cockroaches and bedbugs at an overpopulated prison.

According to France Inter radio on Monday, the France-based International Prisons Observatory (OIP) has lodged a complaint at a court in Melun, complaining about conditions at the Fresnes prison near Paris.

Fresnes, the second largest prison in France, is home to 2,800 inmates (twice its capacity).

The walls of the prison are “crawling with cockroaches, particularly at night”, one witness said in the complaint filed by the OIP.

Lawyer Maud Schlaffmann-Amprino, who visits clients at the prison on a weekly basis, told France Inter that the situation was so bad that many inmates do not even sleep in their beds.

“There are rats in the exercise areas and corridors, and clients have told me that at night they can hear the rats fighting each other,” she said. “In the morning, prisoners go to the exercise yards and find dead rats on the ground.”

“One client told me that he sleeps on a chair with his head on his table because his mattress is completely infested with bed bugs,” she added.

In May, two prisoners contracted leptospirosis, a bacterial disease carried by rats. An inquiry by the regional health authorities blamed prisoners throwing their rubbish out of their windows.

“It’s true that prisoners do this,” said Schlaffmann-Amprino. “But, one of my clients said he had no choice, as no one at the prison comes round to pick up the rubbish. When you are looking at a week’s worth of rubbish accumulated in a small cell occupied by two or three people, there is only one solution. Throw it out of the window.”

In making its legal complaint, the OIP is asking a judge to order the prison to clean up its act. The organisation has form. Following a similar complaint in 2012, the Baumettes prison was ordered to completely eradicate insect and rat infestations within 10 days.

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