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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 April, 2003, 19:38 GMT 20:38 UK
French jail population hits new high
Prostitutes protesting
Prostitutes are just one group against the anti-crime law
The number of people locked up in French jails has risen to an all-time high, the country's prison authorities say.

A crackdown on crime by the centre-right government following its victory at the polls last year could be the cause of the rise.

In February, the government passed tough new anti-crime legislation that introduced a wide range of new offences, such as booing the national anthem.

The figures released by the prison authorities also show the rise has put pressure on the prison system, with French jails now 22% above capacity.

As of 1 April, France had 59,155 inmates, several hundred more than the previous record in 1996.

Crime crackdown

Since his re-election, President Jacques Chirac has made the fight against crime one of his top priorities.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy: The man behind the new legislation

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy wrote the tough new anti-crime law that introduced jail terms for such things as begging, insulting security guards and loitering in communal areas.

Prostitutes convicted of trying to attract clients through their "dress or their attitude" also face two months in prison and a fine of 3,750 euros.

Civil rights groups, left-wing organisations and the opposition Socialist Party have protested against the new law, saying the legislation is "excessively repressive".

The government has promised to build 28 new jails before the end of its term, bringing the number of available prison beds to more than 60,000.

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