Belgian prisons among most overcrowded in Europe

Belgium's prisons are among the most overcrowded in Europe, according to statistics released by the Council of Europe on Thursday. Belgium also has a high number of suicides in prisons, according to the study.

The Council of Europe, the intergovernmental organisation whose aims include the protection of human rights, carries out an annual analysis of the state of Europe's prisons. The figures published on Thursday cover the period from 31 January 2022 to 31 January 2023.

Overcrowding in prisons is a particular focus of the analysis. Overcrowding remains a "serious chronic problem" in prisons in many European countries, the Council writes.

Severe overcrowding

Seven European countries have a prison density of more than 105 inmates per 100 available places, indicating "severe overcrowding". Belgium, with 115 prisoners per 100 places, is among the worst, with only Cyprus (166), Romania (120) and France (119) worse. The European average has risen by 2 per cent in a year and now stands at 93.5 prisoners per 100 places.

Council of Europe figures also show that the suicide rate in Belgian prisons - 14.3 per 10,000 inmates - is very high. Latvia, Switzerland, France and Italy are the only countries with higher rates. The European average is 5.3 deaths by suicide per 10,000 inmates.

Finally, the statistics also show that 42 per cent of prisoners in Belgium are foreign nationals, well above the European average of 27 per cent. The proportion of foreign prisoners is higher in Luxembourg (78 per cent), Switzerland (71), Greece (57), Cyprus (55), Austria (51) and Malta (49).

Prison staff in Belgium have organised strikes in recent months over these issues. In March, it emerged that a prisoner had been tortured for days in an Antwerp jail, which staff failed to notice due to overcrowding.



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