France is failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate conditions for prisoners with psychosocial disabilities, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text] Tuesday. The report claims that the number of prisoners with psychosocial disabilities in prisons remains high because of a 1994 law that directs courts not to take into account mental health conditions when imposing sentences for offenses committed by individuals whose judgment was altered by a mental health condition. Although the intention of the law, the report says, may have been to treat the state of mind as a mitigating factor “the law was not specific on what the modification should be.” The practical implication of the general language is that judges and juries have “tended to view defendants with mental health conditions as more dangerous than those without, and consequently handed down harsher sentences.” The report concludes that those who have been handed harsher sanctions because of their perceived dangerousness and not on “objective criteria” have been victims of discrimination on the basis of disability. The advocacy organization called [press release] on the French government to commission a new independent study of the mental health of prisoners, to provide appropriate living conditions, to ensure that prisoners with psychosocial disabilities are never put in solitary confinement, and to address the shortage of mental health professionals in prisons and improve their working conditions.
Prisoners are an at-risk population throughout the world. Last month HRW reported [JURIST report] that Louisiana jails are failing to provide basic HIV services to inmates. HRW also found that Baton Rouge and New Orleans—the state’s two largest cities—lead the nation in HIV infections every year and the state also leads the nation in rates of incarceration. The treatment of prisoners and prison reform [JURIST podcast] have been matters of ongoing concern in the US with two groups in Ohio detailing [JURIST report] recommendations for criminal justice reform in that state earlier last month.