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Riot police fire tear gas at prison guards

Riot police have fired tear gas at guards blocking France's biggest prisons in a dispute relating to overcrowding

By Henry Samuel in Paris

Warders blocked the exits of several jails in a bid to stop prisoners being transferred to law courts.

The guards are furious with Rachida Dati, the outgoing justice minister, who they accuse of failing to take their grievances seriously over the past year.

Miss Dati is expected to leave the government next month to become a MEP, and unions fear she no longer has sufficient clout to make any firm commitments.

Under French law, guards have no right to strike, but those on days off have set up barricades to demand more staff and better working conditions in prisons that have reached bursting point.

They were built to house a maximum 52,535 inmates but currently hold 63,351 prisoners.

Unions say the ratio of personnel to prisoners is getting worse, especially in older facilities. Half of France's prisons were built before the First World War.

Fleury-Mérogis, France and Europe's biggest prison, just outside Paris, houses 3,700 inmates – well above its 2,885 capacity.

Staff say that overcrowding is to blame for a wave of suicides – some 115 last year. France's prison suicide rate is twice that of Britain's, according to the Council of Europe.

Police intervened in Paris with tear gas and batons at La Santé jail and clashed with warders in Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

They tore down barricades outside Le Fresnes prison in the Paris area.

Two thirds of the country's 194 prisons were affected.

Miss Dati has promised to increase jail capacity by 9,000 places by the end of the year. She said that a "protocol agreement" – including a number of government concessions – was almost ready, but unions denied this.

Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/5279677/Riot-police-fire-tear-gas-at-prison-guards.html