First convict housing unit outside prison grounds opens in Belgium

First convict housing unit outside prison grounds opens in Belgium
The unit will open in Hanswijkstraat in Mechelen, north of Brussels. Credit: Google Street View

Belgium's first-ever transitional housing unit for convicts about to be released has opened in the Flemish city of Mechelen, local authorities announced Monday.

Fifteen prisoners are expected to move in to serve out the last parts of their sentences outside prison walls, director-general of the prison system Rudy Van De Voorde announced.

"This way, they are more likely to succeed in real life," Van De Voorde said, according to VRT.

The housing unit is located in a former homeless winter shelter in Mechelen's Hanswijkstraat and it consists of two adjacent buildings.

"There is room for 15 detainees who together serve the last part of their prison sentence outside the prison's walls," Van De Voorde said, adding that their moving into the unit did not mean that prisoners would enjoy more lenient living conditions.

"They are still detainees who are serving a sentence," he said, adding that they were subject to the same rules than prisoners on penitentiary leave.

The head of the prison system, appointed to his position last year by Justice Minister Koen Geens, cited the use of the transitional houses by countries like the Netherlands to explain the motivations behind the launch of the initiative in Belgium.

Just like in Mechelen, the houses in the Netherlands are "in ordinary neighbourhoods that resemble the world prisoners will live in after their release," Van De Voorde told the outlet.

"Studies show that those who stayed in a transition house fall back less often in criminal offences and have a greater chance of succeeding in life," he added.

Van De Voorde said talks were held with authorities in Mechelen prior to the opening of the housing unit, and that it was normal that the "innovative project" caused some concerns among residents.

"Transition houses abroad, however, cause hardly any inconvenience. So I expect no problems in Mechelen, either," he said.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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