“For young convicts, prison is the default sentence, and we never question its effectiveness”

Responsible for media education with “petty criminals” sentenced to work of general interest, the independent journalist Basile de Bure recounts his experience in a book, “Que le destin rocker”. Maintenance.

In May fate change – title borrowed from a song by the rap group Lunatic –, journalist Basile de Bure, 34, recounts his experience as a media education officer with offenders sentenced to community service (TIG) and aged under 30. Within the APSV, the prevention association of the Villette site, in the 19ᵉ arrondissement of Paris, he met young people – most often adolescents – with singular stories, but often common trajectories. They all come from immigrant and disadvantaged backgrounds, and their backgrounds – contrary to the narratives of class defectors – are undermined by social determinism, making them particularly easy prey for fake news or conspiracy theories. In hollow, the testimony of Basile de Bure draws, also, a dysfunctional justice.

What was the purpose of these courses?
Created by the City of Paris following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, they are part of the plan to fight against radicalization and within the framework of a TIG sentence, which is an alternative sentence to prison. I have sometimes come across somewhat difficult profiles there, such as S files, but the course is aimed above all at a part of the population which could potentially adhere to conspiratorial discourse or, at the time of Charlie, Daesh propaganda. However, I did not find myself facing potential jihadists, but above all facing petty crime.

“A reflection often comes up: journalists are liars, especially on BFMTV. But paradoxically, they are very numerous to get informed… on BFMTV.”

What relationship do these young people have to the media?
I always ask them how they get their news: almost exclusively via social networks. They have never bought newspapers from a kiosk, for most of them a paper newspaper is a foreign object. They don’t quote the radio; more television. A reflection often comes up: journalists are liars. As an example, they systematically speak of BFMTV, deeming the information bad, the sources not verified. And paradoxically, they are very likely to get information… on BFMTV. So they consume media they don’t trust. Same for Cyril Hanouna and Do not touch My TV ! : everyone watches and everyone has a very critical view of the show as well as the columnists. This discrepancy struck me. The internship revolves around the construction of information: we create a newspaper, we do interviews, often with a sentence enforcement judge whom I invite to allow an exchange outside the judicial framework. Then, thematic workshops are pretexts for discussions. For example, a cartoonist comes to help them draw pictures and to talk about the cartoons.

Charlie Hebdo and the attack against the newspaper always crystallize a lot of debates…
Absolutely. Within the same group, some may have very virulent positions, but they are always called to order by the others. I have already had to deal with postures of provocation, as with Kaïs, a minor, who says about charlie : “Well done for their face. » While discussing, he ends up explaining that he is hardly interested in religion, that he does not want Charlie Hebdo, and that he said that out of provocation. A way of putting adults and their dominant speech in difficulty, of reversing the relationship. However, I realize that over the years the memory of charlie fades: the youngest don’t all remember it, whereas when I started the internships, in 2016, we inevitably talked about it.

You show the opacity of the judicial system for these young people, who often speak of humiliation. You even write that “all missed their appointment with justice”. Why ?
When they are caught in the machine, they don’t really understand what is happening to them. JAP, TIG, SPIP… it’s very vague! It is for everyone, but even more for them who are in complicated situations, sometimes in a state of amazement. Most have great distrust of institutions, including justice. And when you don’t trust, you don’t talk. All the rehabilitation counselors have told me of their difficulty in creating a relationship with these young convicts, who find it difficult to distinguish those who can help them from those who are there to punish them. For them, a prosecutor, a judge, an adviser, it is the same thing.

I tell the case of this young woman, Baïa, who does not have the slightest memory of her trial: it shows the great violence of the judicial process. It must be said that these young people are very often judged in immediate appearance, in particular in narcotics cases. In general, they accept because they are told that they can go home afterwards. But in immediate appearance, after forty-eight hours in police custody and then four hours in custody, we are not in a condition to respond to a judge. It’s slaughter justice, really problematic for petty crime.

“Hearing from the mouth of a judge that there may be a problem of racism in the activity of the police or justice, it is very important for them.”

You also write that these young people have “the illusion of mastering their destiny”. Why ?
When I talk about social determinisms, I’m always amazed to see their resistance to the sociological narrative. They are extremely hard on themselves and consider themselves there to be their own fault. Same thing about school exclusion: everyone stops school quite early, very few have the baccalaureate, and they justify it by saying that school was not their thing. To accept the mechanisms that exclude them from the school system or precipitate them into a judicial process, they claim them as a choice.

Their stories have in common a systemic racism. What do they say?
For half a day, a person in charge of the anti-discrimination plan in the 19th arrondissement of Paris explains to them racism and discrimination from the point of view of the law. Often, young people are even unaware of the possibility of filing a complaint for racism. We also talk about it with the judges, some of whom recognize the problem of racial profiling, the overrepresentation of non-white people in court, and therefore in prison. Hearing from the mouth of a judge that there may be a problem of racism in the activity of the police or justice, it is very important for them.

“In this book, I wanted to try to restore their individuality to those who are called delinquents, scum, savages in the worst case…”

All the judges and penitentiary counselors you meet are overwhelmed with cases and consider it necessary not to make incarceration the only possible answer to petty crime. Why is this idea so hard to sell?
The media treatment of criminal justice has a great responsibility. We mainly deal with acts of vandalism, theft, collective fights, always with a focus on the victim. The feeling of insecurity is not linked to the real evolution of certain types of delinquency, but to the way in which the media report on it. It is also maintained by political discourse, with a completely binary debate: too much – security policy – ​​or too little – laxity. There is no other position in the political debate on the response to delinquency. Prison becomes the default sentence in the collective unconscious, and its effectiveness is never questioned. However, we know that prison is criminogenic: it produces recidivism. One of the objectives of the “consensus conference” of 2012, organized by Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, was to highlight alternative penalties, very little known, to fight against recidivism within the framework of a major reform of criminal justice. The law that followed was completely stripped of its substance after arbitration by Prime Minister Manuel Valls. A missed date.

However, your testimonies clearly show the importance of support for these young “petty” offenders…
They want to be trusted. By telling their stories in this book, I wanted to try to give back their individuality to those who are called delinquents, scum, savages in the worst case… all this vocabulary that we have been hearing for a few years in the media discourse and Politics. Life cannot be reduced to an act of delinquency.

Basile de Bure and his book “Let destiny rock”.

Photo Astrid di Crollalanza/Ed. flammarion

To read
May fate change, Basile de Bure, Flammarion, 390 pages, €21.

“For young convicts, prison is the default sentence, and we never question its effectiveness”