More culture in prison: French prisoners will elect their Goncourt for the first time

Culture and prison, two universes still considered distant. However, their encounter is becoming more frequent. In Fresnes (Val-de-Marne), about fifteen prisoners have been taking part in classical music workshops since December. Those of Les Baumettes in Marseille have a film studio. As gaps within the closed environment itself.

“There are quite a few small initiatives in the penitentiary establishments of the territory, acknowledges Cécile Marcel, director of the International Prison Observatory (OIP). But the question to ask is: how do we scale? With a “Goncourt detainee”, for example.

[En images] A concert in prison: moment of escape in the pre-trial detention center of Montluçon (Allier) (July 2020)

Difficult access to culture in prison

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The creation of this award was announced in mid-March by the Ministers of Culture and Justice. While the reading was declared a “great national cause” last summer for a year, it has been difficult to access in prison for years.

“Prisoners who are interested in culture or who want to read feel isolated. The editorial offer in prison is not renewed quickly enough. Beyond the cultural contribution, this program will place them at the center of current literary affairs. »

Regine Hatchondo (President of the Center national du livre (CNL) that carries out this project)

Each prison has its own library, often run by an in-house librarian. “They should be freely accessible, but it’s actually different. Hours are limited, few open on weekends… Lack of staff. Culture is not really the priority in the French prison environment, a large part of the media is dedicated to security”, adds Cécile Marcel of the OIP.

Your pick from the Académie Goncourt selection

Therefore, fifteen works will be selected by the Académie Goncourt during the next literary season. They will be submitted to the vote of the prisoners of some thirty voluntary penitentiary establishments. The CNL hopes to reach 500 people for this first edition inspired by Goncourt high school students, which has existed since 1988.

In the pre-trial detention center of Montluçon (Allier), reading as a means of escape (January 2021)

Workshops and meetings around reading

Mediation workshops and meetings with the authors will be organized until the winner is discovered on December 15. A way to “weave closer ties between the interior and the exterior”, said Minister Roselyne Bachelot at the launch of the project.

Support for the reintegration of detainees

This device is also perceived as an accompaniment towards reintegration.

“Half of the detainees do not have a diploma. 23% of the prison population is illiterate. Reading allows you to work on written and oral expression and to find work you need the basics. It is essential that these people go out into the street knowing how to read and write. »

Emilie Vergnaud (read to exit)

Since 2014, the Paris-based organization has carried out integration actions through reading with adults and minors in detention. “We bring books of all genres, from classics to travel, to prison,” she continues. Autobiographical novels are very popular, the most widely read is Patient, from Grand Corps Malade. Reading allows them to escape for a moment, to forget the prison situation. She calms. »

How does the Riom prison work to support the reintegration of prisoners? (July 2019)

Lisa Douard


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