1) A « get out of jail free » card

2) Pay £50

3) Get some friends to break you out of prison.

This last one is very popular in France, and there are numerous spectacular ways to stage your prison break. Why not get a few mates to blast their way into prison with high explosive, rocket propelled grenades and mortars. After a quick shoot out with the guards, you just walk through the hole in the wall to freedom.

Flying your way out of prison also used to be a popular one. Get the missus to take a few flying lesson, then when she feels confident enough, steal a helicopter, land it in the prison yard during « playtime », climb on board and you away. Alternatively, if you can’t fly, just hijack a helicopter. Of course, this method doesn’t work anymore; all French prisons now have huge nets covering their exercise yards.

4) Wait for a presidential pardon. Back in the good old days (when prices were in Francs and a pack of cigarettes cost as much as a loaf of bread does nowadays), it was traditional for the President of the Republic to pardon prisoners of small misdemeanours and release them on holidays and high days, before the end of their sentence. In the pre-Sarkozy era the President would always issue hundreds of pardons on Bastille Day. Anyone banged up for a non-violent crime, with just a few months left to serve, would be released, just in time for long summer holidays. The practise itself though goes all the way back to the time of Louis XIV. The Presidential Pardon was as much a measure of clemency, as an effective way of reducing the prison population and creating much needed space in overcrowded prisons.

When Sarkozy became President he made it clear that during his term in office, there would be no pardons. A major part of his election campaign had been based on a tough policy on crime. This, along with immigration policy was the reason that far right wing National Front voters switched their allegiance to Sarkozy.

Now though, Sarko is backtracking. He has said that he will pardon prisoners of petty and non-violent crimes and grant them early release. However, the prisoners in question have to be deserving – not only model prisoners, but also helpful prisoners. If for example you have defended a prison guard as he was being set upon by other prisoners, you may qualify for a pardon. If you are reading this in a French prison (and why not), don’t get too excited, the Presidential Pardon will only concern 40 prisoners out a total prison population of 63,750. This is a far cry from the Mitterrand and Chirac era. Both presidents released hundred of prisoners under the Presidential pardon.

If getting out of prison is difficult, getting into prison is likely to get even easier. Plans are afoot to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 13 to 12. The original idea came from our heavily pregnant Dior clad Justice Minister – Rachida Dati (whose own brother has been inside for drug dealing). Needless to say, the very suggestion generated a political storm, however, most of the nation’s penal experts wondered what useful difference, if any, it would actually make if the age of criminal responsibility were lowered by just one year? Why not go the whole way, and do what the Brits do, bang kids up from the age of 10?

Yesterday (December 8th), in a thinly veiled attack on Ms Dati, the idea was dismissed by the Prime Minister, François Fillon, as being totally half-baked.

It seems that the knives are out for Ms Dati, however, she is unlikely to be squeezed out in the next government reshuffle, in January, she begins a long maternity leave. Very opportune, it makes you wonder if Mr Sarkozy didn’t « arrange » the pregnancy himself to get rid of Rachida. I wouldn’t put it past him.