Prison visits to Forest: need for alternative punishments slammed
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    Prison visits to Forest: need for alternative punishments slammed

    On Monday afternoon, the deputies of the various parties, represented in the Brussels parliament, visited Berkendael and Forest prisons. This was on the initiative of the Centre d’Action Laïque (the umbrella organisation for a multitude of secular organisations), Secularism in Brussels and GENEPI Belgique (an association for popular education including on prison-issues).

    Workshops were organised during the day, to prepare prisoners for the visit. Elected representatives were divided into two groups to visit one or other of the two prisons. The Centre d’Action Laïque is demanding a reductionist policy, which favours alternative punishments to imprisonment that has proven expensive. It is also requesting that the link between prisoners and their families be favoured.

    Concerning overpopulation and alarming detention conditions in Forest, Alexis Deswaef, the President of the Human Rights League, stresses, “Belgium was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights and by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, for its detention conditions. In Belgium there are 63 wardens and 2.2 social workers for every 100 prisoners…All of the deputies present are conscious of the significance of implementing tangible social support, with a view to prisoner reintegration into the community. However, in practice the prisoners themselves always remain the last priority of such policies.

    Deswaef went on, “The federal government has further announced wishing to cut subsidies from the association Relais Enfants-Parents, only to make ‘pound wise and penny foolish’ savings. However, this will have consequences which will have a price in the long term. To fight the urge to commit a second offence, the prisoner must be able to resume, as quickly as possible, their position in society. However, prison policy is uniquely thought of as short term, through the law enforcement prism.”

    Alexis Deswaef adds that “visiting hours end at 3.30 p.m., which prevents school-age children from seeing their parents. They only have Saturday. Why can these visits not be organised in such a way as to favour the child’s or children’s interests?”

    Viviane Teiltelbaum, the MR deputy, who is the President of the Council for French-speaking Women in Belgium, says “Many women [in prison] complain of a lack of skills training.” Some 80 women are imprisoned in Berkendael which has a total capacity of around 100 places.

    Oscar Schneider
    The Brussels Times