Emmaus Europe

Breaking free of the vicious circle of poverty and prison

In France and in many other European countries, a prison sentence usually leads to poverty upon release. The Emmaus groups regularly host such people who are struggling to rebuild their lives and thus we are well aware of this situation. Emmaus France and Caritas France have worked together to look into this issue, launching a high-quality survey. Take a look at their proposals to break free of this vicious circle now!

Emmaus started out in 1949 when Abbé Pierre met Georges, a former prisoner and the first Emmaus companion, and suggested that he “help him help others”. Loyal to our tradition of unconditional welcome, the Emmaus movement has always reached out to people who have had issues with the law. Over 1,000 such people are hosted by the 296 French groups every year. Emmaus denounces the idea that prison is the answer to all of society’s issues and we also help the recently-released to reintegrate social and professional life.

In the groups across Europe many of our companions have spent time in prison.

In addition to our communities and get-back-to-work structures, Emmaus in France has also created special structures to help these people, such as the recent farming initiatives. Such structures offer accommodation to people who have been in prison for a long time as well as work on an organic farm and socio-professional support. Thanks to our partnership with the French Ministry of Justice this scheme is beginning to take off: 5 new projects are currently in development, to be added to the 4 existing farming initiatives. These initiatives were recently praised by the Council of Europe Development Bank in their paper ‘Beyond Bars and Walls: Modernising Prison Systems to Unlock Social Inclusion’.

Based on their field experience and in order to ensure the ‘voice of the voiceless’ continues to be heard, Emmaus France and Caritas France decided to look into how the links between prison and poverty are formed and grow over time. Prison is often the last link in a long chain of exclusion. The French State itself is a repeat offender in that it has been condemned several times by French and European courts for the poor living conditions in French prisons.

The team carried out a quantitative and qualitative study into this topic. The study adopts the approach that detained persons are legitimate respondents who can put forward solutions of their own to the issue of poverty and prison. This approach enabled us to remain objective and to analyse the various facets of poverty experienced by detained persons: economic poverty but also social, professional, cultural and spiritual poverty.

The results of this survey highlight the existence of a vicious circle between poverty and prison, mainly due to past and current policies for prisons which have focused on the repression of detainees rather than working towards their rehabilitation as members of society. It came as no surprise to see that poor people were overrepresented in prisons, that their situation gets worse during detention and that they are often not properly prepared for their release. We have now launched a vast advocacy campaign, presenting our 25 clear proposals to stakeholders from civil society and from the political sphere.

The full report and podcasts of discussions with former detainees can be found here in French, and the synthesis of the report in English here.

An event to present and debate these findings is scheduled to be held on 17 February in Paris. The event (in French only) will be available online and will be recorded so that you can watch it at your leisure (click here).

France News Tackling Poverty / Solidarity