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French right on warpath over Socialists’ prison reform bill

media French Justice minister Christiane Taubira defends her bill on Tuesday Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira proposed scrapping Sarkozy-era minimum sentences as part of a long-awaited reform of the criminal justice system she put to the French parliament on Tuesday.

As well as proposing the end of mandatory minimum sentences, introduced by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Taubira wants to extend the use of probation as an alternative to prison time and ensure its use for prisoners leaving jail.

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This is a controversial reform, with the right accusing Taubira of being soft on crime and wanting to leave convicted criminals at liberty.

Meanwhile, some on the left find the bill lacking in ambition and have been asking why it took nearly two years to come up with such a bill.

Taubira told the French parliament that more probation will help avoid repeat offences.

“We know that when people are set free from prison with no support, it leads to more crime,” she said. “In those circumstances, people become repeat offenders. It's a fact and there is no point in burying our heads in the sand.”

Right-wing MP claimed that the law would create “de facto impunity”.

“We want punishments to be effective and for them to be effective, they need to be meaningful,” Taubira said. “They need to make sense for society, for those who commit the crimes and their victims.”

MPs have tabled 800 amendments to the bill and 650 of them come from the opposition UMP.

Several UMP speakers claimed that Taubira has a different approach to Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who cultivated a tough image when he was interior minister and criticised the first draft of the bill last year.

Handing out more probationary sentences is expected to make more space in France’s overcrowded prisons, which have 113 inmates for every 100 places and a prisoner suicide rate twice the European average.

But Valls stood by his justice minister in the parliamentary debate.

“To say that we want to empty the prisons … makes no sense,” he said.

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