Home » Prisons in Mechelen and Leuven are also following Hasselt’s example and are no longer accepting new detainees (Domestic)

Prisons in Mechelen and Leuven are also following Hasselt’s example and are no longer accepting new detainees (Domestic)

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The prisons of Mechelen and Leuven-Hulp will no longer accept new detainees, the ACOD union reported on Sunday morning. After Hasselt and Antwerp, the count now stands at four prisons that keep their gates closed.

Overcrowding in Belgian prisons is acute, which previously prevented new detainees from being accepted in Antwerp and Hasselt. On Sunday morning, according to the trade union ACOD, the auxiliary prison of Leuven and the prison of Mechelen were added. It is expected that more detention centers and penal institutions will follow. Closing the gates is a spontaneous action by the staff to address overcrowding. “It’s the same problem everywhere,” says Mario Heylen of the socialist union. “The solution must come from politicians, from Minister Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD). The staff is tired of the fallacies and the plasters on wooden legs.”

The ACOD therefore advocates returning to measures that created space in Belgian prisons during the corona crisis. At that time, some inmates were allowed to leave prison temporarily and people who were six months from the end of their sentence were eligible for early release. The measures, together with a drop in crime, led to a 12% decrease in the prison population. “Electronic monitoring and conditional release are the only solution at the moment,” says Heylen.

15% overcrowding

On Saturday, figures from the Federal Public Service of Justice showed that on March 1 there were 12,316 detainees for 10,743 places, which means there are approximately 15% more detainees compared to the capacity. On March 1, 2023, there were still 11,402 detainees for 9,755 places, or an overcrowding of almost 17 percent. At the beginning of March, 250 detainees were sleeping on a mattress on the floor in prisons in the north of the country, despite the Prison Service having installed more than 281 beds to date.

“In less than two months, around 400 detainees have been added. We face a national overcrowding rate of 15 percent, rising to 90 percent in some detention centers. This is more than alarming. Safety in these institutions can no longer be guaranteed and there are deficiencies in all areas on a humanitarian level,” the Christian trade union ACV said in a press release. “Although 280 emergency beds have already been added, 250 people are still sleeping on the floor …”

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The unions submitted a strike notice on Saturday for a 24-hour strike from March 14 at 10 p.m. A strike notice was previously submitted for the Antwerp prison for Sunday 10 and Monday 11 March. The overcrowding is not only a problem for detainees who live like sardines packed together, the staff is also literally taking the hit. “Too many people always leads to aggression,” said Robby De Kaey of ACOD on Friday.

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