24-hour strike in prisons in Brussels and Wallonia

24-hour strike in prisons in Brussels and Wallonia
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Staff in prisons throughout Wallonia and in Brussels began a 24-hour strike on Monday evening at 10:00 PM.

Understaffing and overcrowding in prisons are the primary reasons for the strikes – issues that have become worse during the pandemic, Belga News Agency reports.

“The lack of staff combined with overcrowding in prisons is creating appalling working conditions,” said Claudine Coupienne, permanent secretary for justice at the Public Services CSC union.

Police have stepped in at the prisons in Forest and Arlon during the strike, as these two prisons don’t have enough non-striking officers to guarantee minimum service, said a spokesperson for the general management of prisons at the Federal Public Service Justice.

“The problem with giving notice for a prison strike is that management will go and find staff elsewhere, but this only displaces the problem,” Coupienne said. Owing to different management structures in Dutch-speaking prisons, the strikes will only affect French-speaking prisons.

Overcrowding is a particular issue in Brussels prisons, Coupienne explained. The relevant trade unions gave notice of a strike for the three prisons there following overcrowding and the quarantine of a wing due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Saint-Gilles prison.

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Outbreaks at prisons weren’t unusual during the coronavirus pandemic, and the prison system was already overwhelmed with crowding and funding issues.

“A lot of problems and inconveniences for management, prison staff, and for detainees” are the direct result of pressure on prison capacity in Flanders, according to an annual report published by the Central Supervision Board for the Prison System.

What is more, unions say that the “mega-prison” planned for Haren won’t solve overcrowding problems because other prisons in Brussels will be partially or even entirely closed down once inmates there are transferred to the new one.

They’re also concerned about slow recruitment procedures for new prison staff amid critical shortages of employees.

“Out of perhaps 200 or 300 people who passed the recruitment tests to become statutory officers, a month ago we were told that there were only 10 who had accepted the application to take up their duties,” said Coupienne.

“But it takes far too long to call them back - they’re not going to wait two years [to hear back], because life goes on.”

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