Prison guards have to do their job in very poor working conditions and are unable to properly control detainees due to lack of staff and equipment, Cédric Boualier, a Fresnes prison spokesman, told Sputnik.
Being subject to frequent attacks from prisoners and forced to work in a completely unsanitary and dangerous environment, French prison guards have blamed the country's authorities for their disregard for employees of detention facilities, and launched a strike to defend their rights.
"The Fresnes prison has existed since the 1800s, and since then nothing has been reconstructed. For example, 12 hours ago, tonight, one prisoner tried to escape by digging an underground tunnel under his cell. He was found outside the cell. It's good that my colleagues on the tower watched out, and the escapee was caught," Boualier said in his interview with Sputnik.
The unrest was sparked by an assault on prison guards by a radicalized inmate in a prison in the French northern commune of Vendin-le-Vieil on January 11. The protests have lasted for five days and are still ongoing.
The failure of the French government to provide a prompt response to the issue resulted in the further rise in tensions between the authorities and the protesters.
"We have been here for five days. It seems that the government doesn't listen to us, doesn't hear us. We continue our work in extremely difficult conditions. People in prison are left to themselves. One guard is forced to monitor 130 prisoners. There are two guards on some floors, but this is not enough, because there are a lot of other tasks apart from it: observation, documentation, etc. There is just no time to do our job as we should," Boualier said.
According to the spokesman, some 4,000 to 5,000 guards are attacked by prisoners every year, but these assaults are often presented "as a routine matter."
"For example, a guard has been pushed, but the administration does not take these small skirmishes seriously thus underestimating the significance of this phenomenon," the spokesman stated. "We demand that we are provided with necessary equipment, electric shock devices, dogs — all those means that we need to do our work properly."
Up to 150 prison complexes are reportedly being blocked around the country, including the Fresnes prison, where two prisoners charged with planning a terrorist attack in October are incarcerated. A Cameroonian national, 28, and a 22-year-old French citizen were accused of plotting a potential hostage-taking or machine gun attack from their cell.