Some 300 cells are currently vacant in Belgian prisons, revealed several daily papers on Thursday. Penal institutions in Beveren and Leuze-en Hainaut in particular are allegedly ‘underused’. Prison authorities explain that this news should be looked at in context: the new establishments are not yet fully operational.
Unions claim that the current situation results from the hiring freeze at the Ministry of Justice, and deplore across-the-board saving measures hitting their sector. “Beveren prison opened in May, the one in Leuze in July. Services there are still in the initial phase of operation, so they are only partially open, and therefore staffing is not complete either,” points out Laurent Sempot, spokesperson for the prison authorities. He adds, “There is no firm calendar in place at this stage as the duration of this process can vary, depending on various other elements. You must understand that the economic context is a problem, and hiring is complicated”.
As for unions, they deplore that prisons have been opened without recruiting necessary staff. ”Savings of 2% across-the-board are ordained by the government for 2014, with a further 4% required as early as January, which will only make matters worse”, stresses Serge De Prez, Secretary of CSC Services Publics (a public sector union).”It is unbelievable when at the same time huge amounts are being spent on prisoners held at Tilburg in the Netherlands”. His colleague from CGSP Amio, Michel Jacobs, concurs. “At the root of the problem is the decision to stop recruiting”.
Oscar Schneider (Source: Belga)