No overcrowding but “unworthy accommodation conditions”: the Oermingen detention center in photos

On Wednesday May 11, the environmental senator Jacques Fernique made a surprise visit to the detention center in Oermingen. The buildings, built in 1938, suffer from significant dilapidation which causes “unworthy accommodation conditions” according to the general controller of places of deprivation of liberty.

1938. It is difficult not to notice the date of construction of the current detention center in Oermingen, in northern Alsace. These former military barracks bear their date of birth carved into decrepit facades. Wednesday, May 11, around 3 p.m., the environmental senator Jacques Fernique comes to use his right to visit places of deprivation of liberty. The deputy director of the prison Frédérique Matthys welcomes him and immediately evokes “a very old and dilapidated establishment”.

When last inspected in September 2019the Comptroller General of Places of Deprivation of Liberty had described an “establishment which above all requires a real estate investment plan for the renovation – or even the restructuring – of buildings, properly unworthy of the accommodation of persons deprived of liberty”.

212 detainees for 260 places

The center of Oermingen has 212 prisoners for 260 places. The deputy director of the establishment mentions a “hundred of supervisors employed, that is to say one supervisor for two inmates”. Statistics to make any employee of the Strasbourg remand center green with envy, where 650 prisoners lived for 447 places in February 2022. Frédérique Matthys has just left the Strasbourg prison, where she worked as head of detention. Invited to compare the two prisons, the one who started as a supervisor in the late 90s describes:

“In remand prison, there is not enough space, we do not have time to deal with administrative problems, identity cards or residence permits for detainees. In the detention center, all our work is to empower prisoners to promote their reintegration through training and the work offered. »

70% of prisoners work

The visit begins with the workshops of the detention center in Oermingen. These spaces are the pride of the establishment’s management. Here, 70% of inmates work while the national average does not exceed 29%. Beyond the classic work in the kitchen or the linen room, the prisoners can occupy one of the 70 positions offered by five “concessionaires”, companies such as Symea, KHK, Brennenstuhl or the Emmaüs association. On the training side, prisoners can benefit from a hundred places in welding, baking, cooking, landscaping and soon in the building trades.

Outdated heater, two cell

On leaving the workshops, the small group led by Officer Mathieu heads towards building E. Newer than the neighboring barracks, it dates from the 80s. Gilbert (the first name has been changed) welcomes guests in a small cell without storage. Toothpastes and other creams are placed on a lamp above a rickety mirror. The kettle is balanced on the taps above a dilapidated sink. Gilbert is not the type to complain, he first prefers to mention “the bowl which is very good” then he is delighted that the heating has been switched off: “It was hot… It was more bearable. As the deputy director explains, “the radiators are so old here that you can’t find a thermostat to replace faulty parts. So to prevent the detainees from getting cold, either the oil heating turns on full blast or it doesn’t turn on at all. It costs us 500,000 euros a year…”

Then finally, Gilbert still has some criticisms to make about this prison. Admittedly, new windows have been installed, “but the seals were poorly installed, so you can feel drafts”. The prisoner in his fifties also complains about the rooms with two prisoners, when the law requires that the cells be individual: “I found myself twice with young bipolar people, who had attacks of violence. I don’t understand why they don’t group people by age, whether or not they work, or by their state of mental health…” When questioned, the deputy director of the establishment estimates that 20% of prisoners live alone in prison. cell.

In the only renovated building, the contrast is striking

In the middle of the afternoon, several dozen detainees take advantage of the green spaces in the heart of the prison. Some play football, others pétanque. Further on, a man is doing push-ups, another pull-ups. Here, prisoners enjoy greater freedom than in remand prisons. Detention centers receive people who have the best chance of reintegrating when they leave prison.

In building D, recently renovated, the contrast is striking. For the sixty inmates in this section, there is a cupboard that avoids the precarious stacking like at Gilbert’s. The walls are also repainted. The structures of the bunk beds are new. This is the only section where the showers are in the cell. In other wings of the prison, the showers are collective. Some of them are poorly ventilated, the persistent humidity produces a musty smell. Others offer only limited privacy to inmates. “To continue the renovations of the buildings and to change the entire heating system, we are still waiting for funding from Bercy”, regrets Frédérique Matthys.

In the only renovated building of the detention center in Oermingen. (Photo Guillaume Krempp / Rue89 Strasbourg / cc)

“It is in prison that we observe the concrete reality of the Republic. »

After a five-hour visit, Senator Jacques Fernique draws up a contrasting assessment of the conditions of detention in Oermingen. The elected environmentalist first of all appreciates the steps taken to allow the resocialization and reintegration of prisoners, just as he is delighted with the “brand new visiting room” and the “family apartments (allowing visits of a few hours, even a few days, editor’s note)”.

He nevertheless deplores the “living conditions which border on the inhuman in very dilapidated buildings, with cramped rooms and installations which bring us back to the Maginot line. Even if we feel as well on the side of the prisoners that they do not hide their preference for this framework compared to the prisons. “We are in the great outdoors”, they say, and on the staff side, there is a clear establishment culture. The staff is committed to giving meaning to what they do. This requires all the more from the public authorities an investment effort for the renovation of buildings and the recognition of teams. It is a personal political conviction, it is in prison that we observe the concrete reality of the Republic. »

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No overcrowding but “unworthy accommodation conditions”: the Oermingen detention center in photos

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