French President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to pardon prisoners on Bastille Day - breaking with a traditional gesture on the 14 July holiday.
Mr Sarkozy is known for his tough approach towards crime
Mr Sarkozy told French media he objected to using his powers of pardon as a way to relieve overcrowded jails.
Last July, Mr Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, freed some 3,500 inmates in a Bastille Day amnesty.
French prisons house about 61,000 prisoners but were built to accommodate only 50,000.
Mr Sarkozy, who has a reputation as a law-and-order hardliner, said he was asked to release 3,000 prisoners.
"There will be no mass pardon," he told the Journal du Dimanche.
"Since when has the right to a pardon been used as a way of managing prisons?"
The president said he would only consider granting clemency in special circumstances.
"Someone jumps in the Seine River, and saves three drowning children. It turns out he has a criminal record. The presidential pardon could play a role here," Mr Sarkozy was quoted as saying.
Prison officers said they were concerned that Mr Sarkozy's decision could lead to disturbances among inmates.
"The reduction of sentences are much anticipated and have a real psychological impact at the heart of the prison population," the SNP-FO prison staff union said in a statement.
Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, which launched the French Revolution.