Academic journal article Population

Disability in French Prisons: How Does the Situation Differ from That of the General Population?

Academic journal article Population

Disability in French Prisons: How Does the Situation Differ from That of the General Population?

Article excerpt

Over recent years, the health of the French prison population has been a regular focus of attention. In 1997, a special issue of the Revue française des affaires sociales (French welfare policy journal) was devoted to this question. At that time, Olivier Obrecht (Obrecht, 1998) noted that:

"The prison environment has altered radically over the last twenty years, with a significant change in the sociological profile of the prison population. Generally speaking, there are fewer simple thieves and a growing number of drug addicts, sex offenders and illegal immigrants. These changes have been accompanied by a concomitant decline in the state of health of prisoners."

When asked if "prisons have become centres for the medical treatment of the socially marginalized, the poor and all those that society is increasingly incapable of integrating" he gave an immediate affirmative response, sharing the view expressed by Michèle Colin and Jean-Paul Jean that "prisons have become receptacles for the marginal members of society" (Colin and Jean, 1997). In 1997, 5% of new prisoners were homeless, 10% lived in in secure housing and 18% had no social protection (Mouquet et al., 1999). Individuals facing economic insecurity - often synonymous with limited access to healthcare, inadequate hygiene and preventive care, and high-risk behaviour-are especially prone to disability and disease. For example, the survey of homeless users of assistance services (de la Rochère, 2003) showed that the frequency of illness or injury in this population is double that of the population as a whole.

The growing economic insecurity of the prison population is associated with a second observation: its ageing. In 2001, there were slightly more than 5,000 prisoners aged 50 or over in France and, though this figure is still relatively low, it has more than doubled since the early 1990s (Kensey, 2001). This trend is the result of a legislative amendment relating to the term of limitation for sex offences(1) which has led to the conviction of older offenders, longer prison sentences following the introduction of the new penal code, and fewer conditional discharges.

A third and last observation concerns the lack of information on the state of health of prisoners, in relation to disability in particular.

"There is a lack of serious information on the state of health of prisoners. [...] For example, though prisoners with disabilities constitute a clear category with specific needs, no quantitative data concerning them are available." (Guillonneau and Kensey, 1997).

Against this background, the survey of disability and dependency in the prison population (Handicap-Incapacité-Dépendance HID-prisons) whose results are presented in this article, provided an opportunity to fill a certain void. Instigated by INSEE in 1998, the survey was designed and coordinated by INED(2). The main objective was to assess the situation in French prisons with regard to disability and, profiting from the availability of identical data relating to ordinary households and institutions, to compare the prison population with the general population. Another aim was to determine the scope and nature of needs of assistance among prisoners. After a brief description of the survey methodology(3), the main results of this operation are presented and analysed.

I. Presentation of the HID-prisons survey: an extension of the HID survey of the general population

The HID-prisons survey is an extension of the 1999 INSEE survey of persons living in ordinary households (HID-ménages) and the 1998 survey of persons in residential care institutions (HID-institutions). These two surveys now serve as references in France for the study of handicap and disability (Mormiche, 1998). HID-ménages and HID-institutions concerned a total sample of 22,000 people of all ages, representative of the majority of the population living in metropolitan France. Certain subpopulations were outside the scope of this survey however. …

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