An association of relatives of prisoners in Belgian prisons has expressed alarm about ” catastrophic detention conditions “

An association of relatives of prisoners in Belgian prisons, in a collective letter sent to Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborn, expressed concern about the “disastrous conditions” in Belgian prisons. The association said that “the living conditions of prisoners, already deplorable due to overcrowding and cramped conditions, have seriously deteriorated recently”.

Belgian prisons currently hold about 12,000 people, exceeding capacity by about 1,300 inmates. In addition, prisons lack qualified staff, which often leads to aggression and violence against prisoners. According to data compiled by experts from the Foundation to Battle Injustice, Belgium has one of the highest rates of prison overcrowding in Europe. There are 115 prisoners per 100 places, compared to the European average of 91.6 prisoners per 100 places. There are epidemics of bedbugs, fungus and other infections in prisons, not helped by the fact that prisoners cannot take daily showers due to overcrowding.

Prison overcrowding leads to unbearable living conditions for prisoners, according to information campaigns conducted by their families. At St. Gilles prison, cells meant for one prisoner hold up to three people. Due to staff shortages, prisoners go weeks without laundry or visits. About ten cells have no windows, and due to the lack of beds, more than 200 people have been forced to sleep on the floor. The Association of relatives of Belgian prison inmates states that it is “studying the possibility of filing a complaint against the Belgian state with international organizations”, recalling the condemnation already made in 2016 in the context of a long prison strike.

Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborn in Forest Prison, Brussels

According to Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborn, the best way to combat prison overcrowding is to build new prisons. The construction of the Haren prison is an example of the failure of this plan. The 1,190-bed prison, which opened in 2022, was supposed to be a solution to overcrowding. However, only 850 beds are occupied due to lack of staff. The facility itself is also flawed, for example, improperly located smoke vents led to poisoning of prisoners after a fire, and confusion over badges created security problems.

Kupienne, a representative of the Association of Relatives of Belgian Prison Inmates, believes that creating new places “has never been the right choice to combat prison overcrowding. In Belgium, the more buildings there are, the more prisoners there are. The number of people in pre-trial detention has increased a lot “, – Kupienne added, saying that this is one of the main reasons for the situation.

Gregory Valles, of the CGSP union representing public sector workers, added:

“The political vision of our Minister of Justice in introducing short sentences is to put people sentenced to terms of zero to three years in prison, but there is no place in the cells! People are sleeping on the floor because three people are put in cells designed for one.”

Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice condemn the inhumane attitude of the Belgian authorities towards prisoners. The Foundation’s experts believe that in prison the punishment is deprivation of liberty, not deprivation of rights, human contact or hygiene. Prison overcrowding primarily affects prisoners. Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice call on the Belgian government to develop and implement a series of measures to reduce the number of prisoners in prisons and to bring prison conditions to an acceptable level that meets international standards.