What Is Going Wrong in France’s Prisons?

Harriet Alexander, Telegraph, January 17, 2015


Chérif Kouachi was sent to Fleury-Merogis prison–Europe’s largest–in January 2005. While behind bars he met Djamel Beghal, nicknamed Abu Hamza, who was serving ten years for a plot to attack the US embassy in 2001.

Kouachi also met Amedy Coulibaly, who during the three-day coordinated attacks murdered a policewoman and killed four people inside a Jewish supermarket.

Both the Paris attackers fell under Beghal’s spell, hardening their attitudes against France, their home country, and convincing them of the need to wage war in the name of Islam.

It is a worryingly common phenomena across Europe, but especially in France, where at least four men now known to have been radicalised in prison have launched attacks on Europe in the past two years.

Mohamed Merah, the 2012 Toulouse attacker, moved from being a wild petty delinquent to a hardened jihadist while behind bars, and on his release travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan to train for jihad. He returned to France and murdered seven soldiers and Jewish civilians.

Mehdi Nemouche, author of the May murder of four people in Brussels, was also radicalised in prison–travelling to Syria when he was freed and then coming back to attack the Jewish museum.

Chérif Kouachi was already involved in jihadi circles when he went to prison, and found the experience a Petri dish for his extreme views. Coulibaly, like Merah and Nemouche, went in a simple delinquent from the banlieus, but came out a dangerous Islamist.

What is going on in France’s prisons?

Of the 67,500 people currently behind bars in France, it is estimated that 70 per cent are Muslim–when they comprise only eight per cent of the French public. It is illegal under France’s strict laicity laws to count the number of Muslim prisoners, but experts agree that the figure is an accurate average–with some prisons, like those near Paris and Marseille, seeing an even higher percentage. In England and Wales, Muslims account for 14 per cent of the prison population, according to Home Office statistics, and five per cent of the population nationwide.

French authorities state that 283 people are currently in prison for terrorism, of whom 152 are classed as dangerous Islamists. Sixty of them–almost all incarcerated in Paris–are deemed particularly dangerous.

France is the country in Europe which has the highest Muslim population, and has also seen the highest number of people–estimated by the Brookings Institute this month at over 900–travelling to Syria to join Islamic State.

Last week Manuel Valls, the combative French prime minister, said that segregating the hardened radical Islamists from other prisoners was key.

“We separate these inmates from the rest,” Mr Valls told French TV channel BFMTV on Monday.

“It must become a general measure (but) it must be done with discernment and intelligence.”

Nicolas Sarkozy, former French president and now leader of the opposition UMP, echoed his sentiments.

In the prison at Fresnes, south of Paris, a trial programme of segregation has been running since November. Stéphane Scotto, director of the prison, told France Info radio that 20 people were living in segregation–one of whom, believed to be Flavien Moreau, the first jihadist convicted on his return from Syria, was in total isolation.

He said that the idea begun when he noted that in the summer last year there were a dozen radical Islamists in his prison–but by autumn that had increased to 20.

Mr Scotto added that the trial was showing positive results, serving to calm other Muslim prisoners who complained that they felt pressured to behave in a certain way–praying five times a day, taking down the images of naked women that adorned their cells, and wearing clothes in the showers.

But many believe that separating hardened jihadists from moderate Muslims in prison will not solve the problem.


Another prison official told the paper on Tuesday: “I’m going to hand over to the police 60kg of mobile phones that we have seized from prisoners. But they won’t have the time to go through them all.”

Prisons are so full of delinquency, combating radical Islam isn’t their priority, he added. “And the inmates know it.”

“I don’t understand that idea at all of putting all the radicals together and hoping they will change,” said Mr Mokhtari, who now, aged 36, runs an organisation dedicated to helping young men in prison avoid the temptation he nearly fell into.

“We don’t want a new Guantánamo in France.”

Haras Rafiq, who works for the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation and regularly visits prisoners in Britain, said there were two competing schools of thought: one suggested letting prisoners mix in general circulation so ideas are moderated, and the other advocated isolation.

“Neither model works on its own, however,” he told The Telegraph.

Instead Mr Rafiq–like many who visit prisons–advocated an increase in the number and professionalism of imams who provide spiritual guidance to inmates.

In Britain, an estimated 200 imams regularly see prisoners. In France, with over six times the number of Muslim inmates, there are only 182 imams currently visiting.

“There really is no deradicalisation programme in French prisons,” said Mr Rafiq. “In Britain we certainly have plenty of problems, but we do do it better.”

Yet even in the UK, Mr Rafiq said that it was hard to find suitably qualified imams–possessing, he said, the required intellectual, ideological, emotional and spiritual talents.

“Many imams just aren’t up to the task. Deradicalisation isn’t just a religious thing. It’s also political–you need to look at the disenfranchisement, and what they see as racism in society.

“And a lot of them are out of touch. They don’t understand Twitter or social media. The skills aren’t there.”


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  • superlloyd

    Segregate all the muslims and then boot them out of the country. France needs them like a hole in the head.

    • Oil Can Harry

      Obama says France’s Muslims are wilding because the French aren’t doing enough to assimilate them.

      As usual it’s all Whitey’s fault.

      • Zimriel

        The only way to assimilate Muslims is Torquemada’s way.

      • The All Seeing Bry

        The Champions of multiculturalism are now calling for assimilation??? Is that not contradictory?

      • MathMan

        Can Obongo point to a western country where the Muslim population have assimilated? Thought not.

    • Speedy Steve

      The French Revolution brought us urban renewal and the guillotine. Too bad they lost their will to use the fancy head remover.

  • phorning

    “serving to calm other Muslim prisoners who complained that they felt pressured to behave in a certain way–praying five times a day, taking down the images of naked women that adorned their cells, and wearing clothes in the showers.”

    I’m confused, does this mean they shower while still wearing their clothes? I can’t imagine how bad that prison must smell.

    • IstvanIN

      Apparently Muslims can not control their libidos if they see a woman’s flesh or a naked man. They are strange creatures indeed.

      • Daniel McGrath

        Muh Dik black inmates in the US are the same. Same damned genetic stock.

      • Earl Turner

        Or a little kid, boy or girl.

        • Travis Lee

          Or goats.

      • John Smith

        Or goats, sheep and camels.

    • Magician

      And I am also a bit surprised that they are allowed to have pictures of naked women in their cells if they choose to

  • 8% Muslim @ 70% French prison population.
    Makes perfect sense to me.

    • Triarius

      I wonder what the percentage would be if you included non-muslim blacks. What’s the indigenous French percentage in prison, 5%?

    • Valmont

      Not for nothing it’s called PrIslam.

  • Daniel McGrath

    The Afro-Muslim thing is the critical crossover. Temprementally speaking Pakistanis are good merchants. The scum from Mali, Algeria, Tunis? NU graduates all.

    • bilderbuster

      The Pakis still stink and the Moroccans are as bad as the Blacks.

  • Dindu Nuffins

    Disparate impact. Ask Eric Holder how to fix it.

  • IstvanIN

    This is another fact that Ms. Le Pen should add to her arsenal as to why Muslims should not be in France. The blah-blah nonsense about separating “moderate” and “radical” Muslims is absurd. They are all radical, some just aren’t as up front about it.

    • Daniel McGrath

      Only some are commando level comitted to becoming Shahid (saints)

    • Anna Tree

      Yes! And bringing imams to the jails will only make it worst, it is intended of course, we are no naive… the radicals are radicals because of islam, islam is the ideology behind jihad. Those imams will be a bridge to other extremists outside the jail and will, they too, radicalize the other jailed but non-religious Muslims.

    • bilderbuster

      Almost all Blacks in the US claim to be Christian.

  • dd121

    The same thing that is happening in this country with our black prison population: they have been taught by the left to hate whites which helps make them behave criminally.

    • UncleSham

      The major difference is that the Muslims are working towards their own goals which are completely independent of the Left. Blacks are just tools with no realistic long term plans of their own. The Left thinks they can treat Muslims as their pets, like they do Blacks, but that will not last.

  • UncleSham

    This article further proves the notion that the moderate Muslims are on the same side as the radicals. Everything the men with the non-European last names are advocating will make the problem worse. Bring in more Imams? Allow the jihadis to mix with the general population? Everything they propose is exactly what has allowed the radicalism to spread in the first place.

  • james AZ

    Oh other NO-GO ZONES in prisons huh……. 8% of muslims live in Francistan and 70% in prisons….. That mean that numbers must be about 900,000 to 1,000,000 muslims in prisons

  • Steve_in_Vermont

    It’s unfortunate but what they are witnessing is the “new normal” and it will get worse in the future. The word “atrocity” will be heard again. This entire problem could have been avoided a long time ago with sound immigration policies. But they opened the doors and are now paying the price. Will France someday become a police state? They’ve taken the first steps.

    • bilderbuster

      A police state to make sure the Europeans don’t ever get any Nationalist ideas again.

  • Magician

    The ones who do not have French citizenship should be permanently deported. It will also save the French government a lot of money.

    • Magician

      Actually, the above strategy should become a law on all countries in this world. Any resident without the citizenship of the hosting country, should be permanently deported, if they ever commit a crime.

  • Frank_DeScushin

    Why does the author automatically presume that the disparity in the Muslim prison population vs. Muslims in the general population means there is something “wrong” with France’s justice system? I look at those numbers and don’t automatically assume a problem with the legal system, but instead a problem with France’s Muslims. They’re what’s wrong.

    Sadly, as we know, Liberals will never admit that different groups commit crime at different rates because those groups are different. In their eyes we’re all the exact same and “the system” just needs to be tweaked. It’s insane.

    • Why does the author automatically presume that the disparity in the Muslim prison population vs. Muslims in the general population means there is something “wrong” with France’s justice system?

      It’s the disparate impact doctrine at work.

  • james AZ

    HOLD, my mistake…”. I found out that prison population in France is about 65,920..figured out about 46,144 muslims in French prisons. If you think it was wrong.. Let me know. THANKS,

  • guest

    We know one thing that’s going wrong in France. Muslims are being allowed in there.

  • Tarczan

    ALL muslims can become extreme muslims. The moderate ones believe the muslim caliphate is in the far future, the extreme ones believe it is coming soon. When muslims have success, such as in terrorist attacks or politically, the moderate ones become extreme when they begin to think the caliphate is no longer far in the future, but is coming soon.

  • Caucasoid88

    I know what’s wrong with France’s prisons! Racism!

    • John Smith

      Not enough executions.

  • TruthBeTold

    One suggested letting prisoners mix in general circulation so ideas are moderated

    So much foolishness and the liberal answer to everything; integration and assimilation.

    Of course it never occurs to them that extremist views might be taken up by the non-Muslim prison population who already have reason to hate the government.

    • Zimriel

      70% violent Muslims, 15% violent nonreligious jerks, 15% schlubs who messed up. I think the alpha-male principle would apply here. You’d end up with 100% violent Muslims.

  • Lygeia

    The article mentions that Muslims wearing clothes in the showers.

    That is unhygenic and leads to bacterial and other infections. So uncivilized.

    • Bill Moore


      How about private showers?

      Bill Moore

      • newscomments70

        Religious fundamentalists won’t even wear clothes in a private shower. They feel the body is dirty. There were even Christian sects that believed this.

  • mikes2653

    Muslims are to French prisons, apparently, what blacks are to this country’s.

    The difference is that the great majority of those Muslims were let into France within the past 50 years, or born there to such recent immigrants. We are saddled with the blacks and all their social pathologies because white colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries didn’t want to pick their own cotton and tobacco. America suffers for its centuries-old errors, France for its current ones.

    • BernieGoetzFan

      I’ll bet many – even most – of these “Muslims” really are black Muslims.

      • mikes2653

        I think most Muslims in France are from former French colonies, with Algeria being probably the principal source of immigrants. Morocco would probably follow it. There were certainly some French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa from which full-blooded negroes might come, while the north Africans are of mixed Arab, Berber, and negro origins.

  • Zimriel

    We could run the same statistic on suicide-bombers. Some Tamil Hindus will be on the list. But overwhelmingly . . .

  • newscomments70

    I have a solution: reduce the Muslim population, by repatriation, to 4%, and then they will only be 35% of the prison population. Keep reducing their population by 50% until the prisons have emptied.

  • KenelmDigby

    The very fact that Muslims are 70% of the French prison population, despite being ‘only’ 8% of the general population, and nothing else – no other single fact or argument that one might consider – tells us that mass third world immigration into France has been an absolute, complete, unmitigated cataclysmic disaster of the highest order.
    To any immigrationist or lefty out there, try to dispute that. No, you can’t, but you will lie and lie and lie about it, and try to blame the White French for this appalling criminality.

    • RationaliseThis

      Muslims are often unusually bad, Blacks are also often unusually bad. Black-Muslims explains France.

      • Daniel McGrath

        Intersectionality of a War Creed and black genetics.

  • MooTieFighter

    You let the rats in, it’s too late. America is right behind the French.

    • Mohamad

      I had a friend that went on vacation to France.
      He told me that he was nearly robbed by a bunch of arab’s in a housing project.
      they were north African
      He explained to me that Arab’s in France are like Blacks in America

      • newscomments70

        My friends, German a couple I know, were car jacked outside of Paris by some Northern Africans. They didn’t want to pay the tolls and opted for the secondary roads…mistake. They told me that these Northern Africans are “French Turks”. That was an interesting expression. To him, a German, “Turks” meant violent, racist thugs.

  • Earl Turner

    Maybe Israel can take them. Oh wait, never mind.

  • Raymond Kidwell

    Really odd that during Europe’s dark ages the middle east was highly civilized and educated

    • John Smith

      The West progressed and learned, while they stayed the same in religiously-inspired inertia.

  • OyVey00

    The main problem is that these Muslims come from societies where using violence to solve conflicts is seen as perfectly normal. These countries all have (compared to the West) draconic punishments to deter crime, often also involving public shaming like lashing. In contrast, our “enlightened” humanist justice system must seem ridiculous to them. These people are violent by nature and thus only understand the language of violence.

    It’s similar with blacks in America. They interpret mercy not as a second chance, but as weakness. Adn they have no respect for the weak.

  • Cid Campeador

    What’s going on in French prisons? The same thing that’s going on in our prisons.
    We need a massive repatriation program to the ME and Africa.

  • Donald

    Islam is criminal. Of course they are well represented in prisons.

  • John Smith

    That’s about the same percentage blacks represent in ours, IIRC.

  • Cid Campeador

    We should be doing the same thing here.