Release prisoners six months early to tackle overcrowding, says Justice Minister

Release prisoners six months early to tackle overcrowding, says Justice Minister
An inmate in a Brussels prison. Credit: Belga

In an effort to combat overcrowding in Belgium's prisons, Minister for Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne wants to release prisoners six months before the end of their sentence. Only the most dangerous criminals, such as terrorists and sex offenders, would be excluded.

Van Quickenborne has prepared a law that will systematically allow prisoners to be released six months before the end of their sentence.

Belgian prisons have faced criticism for years, as they rank among Europe’s top 5 most densely populated. On Monday, the country was ordered to tackle the poor conditions and overcrowding by the Council of Europe.

Yet the issue continues: despite a series of measures that reduced the number of prisoners to around 9,500, inmate numbers again rose to 11,134. This is one of the highest figures ever recorded and around 1,600 more than the number of places available.

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Last year, the situation became so dire that some 150 inmates were forced to sleep on the floor.

The measure of releasing prisoners before the end of their sentence had already been applied during the Covid pandemic to protect prisons. This led to the release of some 200 prisoners in 2020.

While 77% of inmates sentenced to three years or more served at least half of their sentence in 2017, that figure fell to 69% last year, as an increasing number of prisoners were released early.

The decline among inmates serving at least two-thirds of their sentence is even stronger: from 66% in 2017 to 54% last year.

The Government will decide on Friday whether the measure should be implemented until the end of 2024.


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