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Fresnes Prison

Fresnes Prison is the largest prison in France, located in the town of Fresnes, Val-de-Marne near the city of Paris.

Construction of the prison took place between 1895 and 1898 based on the design of architect, Henri Poussin. Using what would later be referred to as a "telephone-pole design," the facility represented a radical concept for prison layouts. At Fresnes prison, for the first time cell houses extended crosswise from a central corridor, bisecting the housing units at right angles, while connecting all the cell houses and other facilities. The design, a typical example of which would be the Riker's Island prison in New York City, would be used extensively in North America for almost another century.

During World War II, Fresnes prison was used by the Germanss to house captured British SOE agents and members of the French Resistance. Held in horrific conditions in dark holes, these prisoners were tortured and some such as Berty Albrecht (1893-1943), co-founder of the Combat movement, were executed. As soon as the Allied forces broke through at Normandy and fought their way to free Paris, the Gestapo killed prisoners at Fresnes such as Suzanne Spaak, who was executed there on August 12, 1944, just weeks before the city was liberated.

Like any major prison, Fresnes has had its share of notorious inmates. Paul Touvier would die at Fresnes prison hospital during his incarceration for war crimes and automobile industrialist, Louis Renault, arrested for collaborating with the Nazis, died there in 1944 under what some call questionable circumstances.

Throughout Fresnes prison's history, the have been several escapes but none more dramatic than the March 2003 breakout of Italian mobster, Antonio Ferrara in a commando style raid by members of his gang. In scenes right out of a Hollywood movie, in a successful fifteen minute assault, gangsters used rocket launchers to blow holes in the prison's walls, splattered guard posts with machine gun fire, and set cars on fire as a distraction.