Home » Minister Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) addresses prisoners in a new letter: “My ultimate goal is zero ground sleepers”

Minister Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) addresses prisoners in a new letter: “My ultimate goal is zero ground sleepers”

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Now that there have been strikes in all Belgian prisons for weeks, Van Tigchelt is taking up his pen for the second time. A month ago, after a torture scandal in Antwerp’s Begijnenstraat, he indicated how difficult the working conditions were. “I admit that it is currently insufficient,” he wrote at the time.

In a new letter to all penitentiary officials, which our editors were able to view, he once again praises their courage in difficult times. “A lot has been said and written about prisons lately. Everyone has an opinion and that’s a good thing. Good discussions ensure balanced solutions. This is of course about your work and that is why I want to address you first and foremost.”

Van Tigchelt states that the measures introduced against the dire overcrowding are slowly but steadily having an effect. “It’s going in the right direction. The prison population, which stood at 12,441 on March 4, has fallen to 12,015 inmates today. But we are not there yet.”

A torture scandal in the Antwerp prison was at the root of the unrest.

Ground sleepers

Despite all the cautious hurray reports, that threshold of sub 12,000 detainees in our prisons remains a difficult hurdle. On Thursday they were 11,992, on Friday 12,015.

What is certain is that the number of ground sleepers has decreased in the past month. On March 4, 268 prisons were on the floor every night, today there are 86. Striking: in the south of the country there are hardly any floor sleepers. “As I said earlier, the aim is to reduce the number of ground sleepers to zero and ensure that there are no more ground sleepers in the future. That is why the measures taken are monitored daily and adjusted where necessary. We will continue this exercise at least until all ground sleepers have been removed.”

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“Aggression plan”

The Minister of Justice also insists on accelerated recruitment of staff and that approximately four hundred additional places will be added in prisons in the coming months. “We want to use these extra places to gradually phase out the 280 emergency beds that were added in 2022. This should further reduce pressure on our prisons and staff.”

Later in his letter he also speaks of a new “aggression plan” that is currently being rolled out. He is referring to individual treatment plans for detainees and internees with behavioral disorders. It is known that one of the pain points of overcrowding is the many hundreds of internees who do not actually belong in a prison at all.

The strike has been going on for several weeks now and there appears to be no end in sight.

Minimal service

Finally, he emphasizes the bone of contention with the unions: guaranteeing minimum services during the strikes. And that from hour one of an incipient strike. “This is important for the safety of the staff and detainees present and guarantees the minimum basic rights of the detainees. Its application during the social actions in recent weeks shows that this is possible and does not affect the right to strike. It is a balanced and responsible measure in the interests of all involved,” he writes.

Van Tigchelt sees it positively. He decides that further progress will be made. “We always take into account the needs of the staff, the rights of the detainees and the safety of society. That’s a difficult balance and I know the current situation is demanding a lot from you. I would like to thank you for your efforts.”

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