Established in 1946, Caritas France/Secours Catholique began as a campaign to provide essential products packages to prisoners during wartime. While we still occasionally offer material support such as Christmas presents, food, and writing sets, our primary objective is to preserve prisoners’ dignity as well as social and family ties. The primary purpose of Caritas France remains facilitating interactions between prisoners and people outside the prison system: both those with social connections to prisoners and those seeking to assist /support them.
Our 2,000 volunteers cover most French prisons, including those overseas. They do not claim to be social workers or probation officers, but rather serve as the missing link in helping prisoners regain self-esteem and competence. We believe that without this intermediary role, prisoners cannot directly reintegrate into society, leading to a higher risk of recidivism.
Our network provides prisoners with financial support to cover basic expenses related to their everyday life in prison (but not extras). For the most vulnerable individuals (e.g., illiterate, suffering from mental health issues, or foreigners), some volunteers provide assistance, notably by offering writing consulting services.
We also serve individuals under open custody, which represents two-thirds of individuals facing criminal proceedings in France, the remaining third being inside prison. We provide support to people under probation, serving non-custodial sentences, as well as those who have been definitively released. We offer reintegration support and encourage ex-prisoners we have helped to become members of our volunteer prison-justice teams, particularly those with expertise in reintegration.
Given the harsh overcrowding in French prisons, we advocate for alternative forms of detention and sentence adjustments. Along with Catholic Church researchers, we promote a new Christian vision of sanctions that make sense and are more focused on social usefulness rather than on suffering and strict security measures, which is currently the case in the current French justice system.