At the Béziers penitentiary center, as in all prisons in France, between emotion, anger and demands

At the Béziers penitentiary center, as in all prisons in France, between emotion, anger and demands

The minute of silence stretched out over time, reflecting strong emotion. Midi Libre – SYLVIE CAMBON

The death of two prison officers, responsible for transporting an inmate, revived painful memories among Béziers officials. This Wednesday, May 15, they organized a "dead day".

The minute of silence stretched out in time. For almost five minutes, with their backs symbolically turned to the management of the establishment, the agents of the Béziers penitentiary center paid tribute to Fabrice Moello and Arnaud Garcia, their colleagues killed the day before on a motorway in the Béziers prison. Eure. "Murdered, executed rather", they correct. The faces are frozen. Between emotion and anger.

Here, this drama is all the more painful as it has awakened the memory of Tarascon. On January 28, 2019, two men armed with assault rifles fired on a prison van in front of the court to allow a Nîmes inmate to escape. & quot;The crew was from Béziers. Our colleague driver only saved his life because he had the reflex to lower his head. It was the first time that a convoy had been targeted in this way", relates Amandine, the head of the Judicial Extractions Attachment Center (Prej) in Béziers.

If the three men, found six months later in the Cévennes, had been sentenced at first instance to 18, 22 and 25 years of imprisonment, the sentences were almost halved on appeal. "8, 12 and 13 years old. This is not an answer commensurate with the facts. Above all, we were told at the time that there would be a before and an after Tarascon. Nothing has changed since!"

Other tragedies narrowly avoided

While a pile of tires and an old gas stove block the entrance to the prison, "a dead day, like everywhere in France, to express our anger", the Prej agents are compiling the latest incidents : "There were two again on Monday alone. At the Nîmes court, an inmate took advantage of the malfunction of the vehicle security gate to try to escape. At the Perpignan assizes, another injured a colleague by trying to grab his weapon in full court. Without his composure, there would be drama".

At the Béziers penitentiary center, as in all prisons in France, between emotion, anger and demands

Flags at half-mast at Béziers prison. Midi Libre – SYLVIE CAMBON

These agents also depend on the Prej de Béziers, created like that of Nîmes in 2017, when the prison administration was entrusted with judicial extractions, until then carried out by the gendarmes or the police officers. "We depend on the Arpej (authority for regulation and programming of judicial extractions) of Toulouse which receives judicial requisitions from magistrates and distils them on the region's Prej (there are two others in Albi and Muret) depending on the presentation locations. We have 43 agents in Béziers, including 9 based in Perpignan, and we can operate throughout Occitanie, and even beyond, in Marseille, Lyon and even Paris, details the head of department.

School bus

Thomas Jacquot, UFAP-UNSA national secretary, also attached to the Béziers Prej, intervenes to describe sometimes ubiquitous missions. "We happened to go to Rodez, a 5-hour drive round trip, to transport an inmate from the prison to the court a few hundred meters away. Often, we also do what we call school pickups to rationalize travel, that is to say we can pick up detainees in Toulouse, Carcassonne and Perpignan to bring them, in the same vehicle, at the Montpellier court". Because the workforce does not meet the needs – "a report recommended 2 800 positions at the national level during the transfer of mission, there were 800"– and because the prison administration suffered a cost reduction policy assures the trade unionist. "To the detriment of the safety of civil servants".

All of them indeed mention "more risks of escape. Before, it was the prerogative of organized crime. Now, even a small-time trafficker will do anything to get out". However, continues Thomas Jacquot, working conditions have not followed this evolution. "We drive in Kangoos or Rifters with low engines and the Prison Administration logo. We also sometimes get followed to intimidate us. There should be at least unmarked vehicles and a fleet of armored cars for the most dangerous profiles. And our weapons, simple 9 mm, can do nothing against the assault rifles that these traffickers use".

Equipment, process…

Beyond the equipment, Prij agents mention processes that also need to be reviewed. "It is not normal for all detainees to be aware, in advance, of the day and time of their extraction; with cell phones circulating in detention, they can notify their loved ones. We should also use videoconferencing more often, particularly for hearings with the judge of freedoms which sometimes last only a few minutes. Or while the magistrates move to prison".

The unions are also asking to review the escort levels of each individual. It is up to each establishment to set this from 1 to 4, depending on their profile and external relations. "On levels 1 to 2, we often leave in pairs, one at the wheel, the other behind with the inmate. But I happened to transport a 17-year-old minor, a first-time offender considered level 2 because he was sentenced to six months, who spent the two-hour journey trying to take my weapon< /em>, says Thomas Jacquot again.

The procession level in questions

After the Tarascon attack, the extractions of level 3 detainees were supposed to be reinforced by the police. "It lasted a very short time. However, Mohamed Amra, who escaped on Tuesday, was precisely level 3, comment two of his colleagues. Could the tragedy have been avoided ? "It's always difficult to remake the film, they were determined to kill. But maybe…"

From one group to another, the discussions become lively, some recount the moment when they learned of the death of their colleagues, others evoke the reaction of their loved ones. "They know the particularity of our missions, but perhaps did not understand the danger". The anger does not subside. "Dupond-Moretti(the Minister of Justice) has an interest in providing concrete answers. Otherwise, tomorrow, we will still be here". It’s not just the minute of silence that could last. The movement too.

Strong mobilization in the region

Nîmes, Villeneuve-lès-Maguelone, Mende, Rodez, Perpignan… Like &agrav; Béziers, and following a national appeal, all the prisons in the region were closed. blocked this Wednesday. "No visiting room, no walks", indicated the strikers in front of the Montpelliérain establishment. Everywhere, similar demands, even going beyond of the problem of extractions."We are chronically understaffed. À Béziers, we already miss him. 23 people and many agents must soon leave. retirement without a recruitment plan being planned. Sometimes there are one or two of us to manage a floor of 200 inmates", grumbles Bernard Magdola. A testimony that we found in front of each prison from agents saying despite everything, love their job. "But the lack of means places us in insecurity. We display a policy of repression, for example with the clean-cut operations (to undermine drug trafficking, Editor's note), new prisons are promised… But nothing concrete follows", indicates another striker. Determined &agrav; that this drama which strikes the penitentiary, the first since 1992, is finally followed by strong actions.

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