French inmates who have been sentenced to less than two years in prison will be released three months early in order to ease concerns of prison overcrowding, French newspaper Le Figaro reported on Tuesday.
The move by the French Ministry of Justice means that, since Jan. 1 of this year, criminals are free to leave prison three months earlier than their sentence ordered, provided they have been sentenced to less than two years in prison and have appropriate accommodation.
The early release will not apply to those convicted of domestic violence, sexual offenses such as rape and sexual assault, or offenses against minors under the age of 15. It will mean, however, that convicted drug traffickers, robbers and thieves, and violent criminals will be free to roam French streets earlier.
The new policy has enraged magistrates concerned about repeat offenders; they insist the lengths of sentences they hand down to criminals are for a good reason.
“We did not become judges to be robots who sign papers without appreciation. If the legislator wants to empty the prisons, he does not need us to do it,” said one magistrate cited by Le Figaro. The judge warned it was only a matter of time before the policy is shown to fail by an inmate who re-offends when they should still be behind bars.
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Another judge from the Paris region questioned how the policy will look to criminals from a deterrent perspective.
“You see how we are going to be considered by our drug traffickers who repeat offenses with a vengeance,” he told the French newspaper. He suggested the policy was doomed to fail and magistrates may feel inclined to “increase the penalties” they hand down to criminals so as to render the reduction obsolete.
The policy comes after French Ministry of Justice statistics published late last year revealed French prisons have reached record levels of inmates with more than 72,000 convicts behind bars.
The issue facing the French government is that the country’s official prison capacity is 60,700 places, meaning an overcrowding issue of 20 percent.
In October last year, French President Emmanuel Macron admitted half of the crimes in Paris are committed by “foreigners in an irregular situation or awaiting asylum approval.” He, however, refused to make an “existential link between immigration and insecurity.”