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Prison staff want to strike over eased rules for visitors

Credit: Belga

A strike notice was filed for all prisons in Belgium following the decision to relax rules for prison visits, unions announced on Monday evening.

Unions are concerned over the eased measures in place for visitors, and the “impact on the safety of staff at work,” as Flemish Christian trade union ACV Openbare Diensten said.

The strike is expected to start on Monday 8 February from 10:00 PM. Negotiations are scheduled for Tuesday morning, according to ACV.

The arrangement for visitors was adapted due to the extension of the measures until 1 March, according to the prison administration, which said the changes were important to prisoners’ well-being.

“The preventive measures that currently apply, namely the absence of physical contact and respect for sanitary measures, ensure that these adjustments to the visiting rules can be implemented safely.”

Children aged 12 to 15 will be able to return for visits, subject to the health measures in place. They may also be accompanied by an external professional. The rule that inmates are allowed only one adult visitor (aged 16 or over) remains in force, but they will now be able to request a change. This visitor must, however, be the same person for four weeks.

The prison system eased these measures unilaterally, according to Gino Hoppe, Secretary General of the General Confederation of Public Services (ACOD-CGSP).

“Prisons are easing their rules while no easing takes place outside,” he said. “There have already been several outbreaks of infections although we are doing everything we can to keep the virus outside our walls. We don’t understand” this decision, Hoppe added. “It’s playing with the health of staff and inmates”.

“Even if they seem futile, they are indeed easings and show little respect for the staff,” he added. “The easings concern mainly young people, even though we are seeing an increase in cases among children.”

“To be clear, it is not a question of relaxing visiting rules,” reacted prison spokesperson Kathleen Van De Vijver. “We are offering prisoners the opportunity to change adult visitors for the next four weeks. This means that a prisoner can, for example, see his mother until today and then his father for the next four weeks. Inmates can be visited by two children under the age of 16 per visit. Each visit takes place behind a Plexiglas screen and physical contact is prohibited.”

“Issues related to visits are the responsibility of the prison directors”, Van De Vijver concluded, while welcoming “the opinions of the trade unions.”

The Brussels Times