Taubira and Security Issues: the Never-ending Debate between Sanction and Prevention

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Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, in the French National Assembly
BERTRAND GUAY AFP.COM

Christiane Taubira, the French Minister of Justice, recently triggered a storm of criticism after she questioned the efficiency of the Centres Educatifs Fermés (CEF), a name for enclosed educational centers for young offenders. The debate created by her comments stirred up the old and traditional opposition between Right and Left regarding security and criminal issues.

The creation of the enclosed educative centers in 2002 was supposed to bring a new solution to combat youth criminality, being the very last chance for underage teenagers before jail. Hosting 13-18 year old kids for six months, they provide a numerous team of adults to supervise the young criminals.

Nicolas Sarkozy had made these centers one of the symbols of a security policy that was intended to be tougher on criminals. Along with the enclosed centers came other measures specifically aimed at young criminals who were, according to the Right and its main party the UMP, too privileged by the current legal system.

Speaking about the enclosed centers, Taubira said that they were a “fantasy” that needed to stop. She also declared that she had launched a general inspection of those centers, after having stopped the transformation of 18 older structures into enclosed centers. According to the Minister of Justice, the centers cannot be the only solution. She wants opened centers to be promoted and built in sufficient numbers since, according to her, they actually proved to prevent second offenses and recidivism in 80% of the cases.

The Right and the Extreme Right commented violently on these statements, personally attacking Taubira. According to Brice Hortefeux, former Minister of Justice under Nicolas Sarkozy, “justice is for her a varying notion and firmness, an unknown concept”. The strongest attack came from Wallerand de Saint-Just from the extreme right party, the Front National (FN) who accused Taubira of being “fascinated by the offender and the criminal”.

The Left has always advocated for a special treatment for young criminals, asserting that society needs to give them second chances as long as it remained possible. Indeed, tough measures and prison terms for underage criminals repeatedly proved to encourage subsequent offences, a fact that Taubira highlighted several times.

For decades, the Left and mainly the Parti Socialiste (PS) defended prevention and educational measures, while the Right promoted a perspective focused on sanctions and firmness. Taubira’s case rekindled this opposition, which seemed to have been deceptively outdated. Both parties acknowledged that sanction and prevention were two faces of the same coin and that insisting on only one of them was a deadly mistake. The sole difference between Right and Left on this issue is the balance between sanction and prevention.

François Hollande himself had given evidence of the evolution of his party. Indeed, he had pledged that he would raise the number of enclosed centers from 42 to 80 during his presidency. For him, the enclosed centers could be compatible with the ideology of his party since they promote education and second chances as a last resort before definitive sanctions.

Moreover, after her first comments, Taubira was asked by the Prime Minister to confirm that she intended to follow Hollande’s promise and double the number of enclosed centers. Being more accurate, Taubira voiced several concerns, from associations for instance, regarding the way those centers were run. She questioned the training of the personnel and the decrease of alternatives to deal with the young offenders. She then refused to allow opened structures to be turned into enclosed centers.

Nevertheless, for the Right and Extreme Right, Taubira was once again the perfect target to try to persuade the French that the Left and the new president were leading a lax policy regarding security.

Hollande has done everything to give the opposite impression, especially when his Prime Minister appointed Manuel Valls for Minister of the Interior, the equivalent of a Home Secretary. Valls is known for his firm views about security and legal issues. The recent expulsions of Roms, Romanian gypsies staying illegally in France, confirmed this viewpoint and drew criticism from the Left.

Drawing attention to the government’s security policy may indeed be an efficient strategy for the Right since the French are still widely divided ideologically over this issue, confirming the controversy launched by Taubira.

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