In Belgium, the state of prisons is turning into a “national disaster”

On February 15, there were 11,326 detainees in Belgian prisons for 9,752 places available, i.e. an overcrowding rate of 16%. Result: detainees crammed into cells that are too cramped, but also 217 “mattresses on the floor” identified by an administration which, for four decades, has been struggling against an apparently inextricable situation. Everywhere, the overpopulation rate is exploding: 167% in Antwerp and Ghent, 126% in Liège, Namur and Mons. Here and there, guards admit to placing prisoners who have committed no fault in solitary confinement: “Agents sometimes do not find a place elsewhere”says a union representative.

The Committee for the Prevention of Torture of the Council of Europe, the Central Prison Supervisory Board (a body attached to the Belgian Parliament), mayors who have threatened to close establishments, lawyers, prison directors: all denounce a situation considered dramatic, even a “national disaster”the increasing number of detainees aggravating the state of buildings that are often dilapidated, poorly equipped and do not respect minimum hygiene standards.

“Two of our four boilers broke down in the cold, sometimes you have to choose between showers and heating, the kitchen has been out of order for six months, ceilings are collapsing, 60% of the cells are infested with bedbugs, but overcrowding prevents sustainable sanitation”, explains Vincent Spronck, director of the Mons prison, a 166-year-old establishment. In Liège-Lantin, the central tower of the building is sinking, in Merksplas, in the province of Antwerp, the prisoners suffocating under the heat broke dozens of windows this summer.

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“The situation is known but has worsened significantly in recent years”, estimates Jean-François Funck, president of the court of application of the sentences of Brussels. The judges are not left out to denounce the ineffective role of the State: in November 2022, the Liège court condemned it to remedy the overpopulation in Lantin. An identical procedure was launched in Mons and the State, condemned at first instance, is on appeal in Brussels.

Violence between prisoners

Updating its previous reports, the Council of Europe published a new opinion in November 2022 after its delegates visited four establishments. Pointing at the ” recurring problem “ violence between prisoners, he also underlined the lack of staff and called for a reduction in the prison population.

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