Prison staff refuse to accept new inmates as overcrowding continues

Prisons across Flanders are refusing to take any more inmates as the issue of overcrowding remains unresolved. On Saturday, Antwerp and Hasselt prisons announced they would not accept any more inmates, followed on Sunday by Bruges, Mechelen, Turnhout and Leuven. 

The unions have submitted notice of a 24-hour strike from 14 March at 22.00, to address overcrowding and the resulting security challenges. They also want Justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt to attend the consultations that should take place following the strike notice. Van Tigchelt has not yet responded, VRT reports.

There was a 24-hour strike by prison staff across the country in January, followed by a week of action in Flanders in February.

'Mountain of problems'

National figures from the Federal Public Service Justice show that there were 12,316 inmates but only 10,743 places on 1 March. On the same date last year, there were 11,402 detainees for 9,755 places. In Flanders, 250 inmates are sleeping on mattresses on the floor, despite the Prison Service adding 281 emergency beds.

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This leads to unacceptable working conditions, Robby De Kaey of the ACOD trade union told VRT. “The staff have a mountain of problems in their daily operations,” he said. “Last week, the minister met with the prison directors. People were crying because they can’t cope anymore."

Prison staff want to see reduced inflow of prisoners and increased outflow. De Kaey: “We are asking for the pause button to be pressed for short sentences and the provisional release for overcrowding – which was introduced during the pandemic – to be revived. There could also be more use of ankle tags, and people could be monitored outside prisons for a year before their sentence ends.”



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