Berkendael women's prison to be converted into detention centre

Berkendael women's prison to be converted into detention centre
Berkendael - Forest prison in Brussels. (Credit: Alexandre HDI2.2020 / Wikimedia)

The women's prison at Berkendael in the Brussels neighbourhood of Forest will soon be converted into a detention centre, where short-term convicts will be able to serve their sentences.

The decision comes as part of the move of the prisoners to the new prison in Haren, Bruzz reports, where they’ll join prisoners from Forest and Saint-Gilles.

“The new prison will have room for 1,190 inmates,” said Edward Landtsheere, spokesperson for Ministry of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD).

“In order to cope with the acute shortage of places in the prison system, the prison in Saint-Gilles, among others, will be kept open until 2024 with two hundred places.”

Belgium struggles to manage crowding in prisons

Belgium has been struggling to manage overcrowding in its prisons, especially during the pandemic.

A new prison in Haren is meant to relieve some of that pressure, absorbing the population of older, smaller prisons that can then be repurposed for other uses, as is happening with the one in Saint-Gilles.

“The women's prison of Berkendael will be given a new interpretation and transformed into a detention house. This was decided in consultation with the State Secretary for Buildings Management, Mathieu Michel,” said Landtsheere.

“These are lower security but closed institutions with a capacity of between 20 and 60 people, where people serve a short prison sentence of up to three years. Those convicted of terrorism offences or sex offenders are not eligible.”

Low-risk detainees working towards reintegration

Residents of a detention house are considered low security risk detainees, who are given household tasks and are supported in their search for education, courses, work or community service, with the goal of reintegration into society.

“Practical studies in Scandinavia, where small-scale detention projects have been common for some time, show that the detention houses significantly reduce the risk of recidivism,” explained Landtsheere. “Those who reoffend are again referred to a traditional prison.”

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In order to convert the women's prison at Berkendael into a detention centre, the building will have to undergo the necessary modifications. For example, the bars between the wards and the living area will be removed.

“Part of the work will be done in consultation and with the help of the residents of the detention house,” said the Justice Cabinet.

“This will be their first joint project. The Berkendael site is suitable as a detention house since there is plenty of room for activities and development. The infrastructure allows for a more open regime.”

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