Belgian prisoners demonstrate against poor conditions, administration responds

Belgian prisoners demonstrate against poor conditions, administration responds
An inmate in a Brussels prison. Credit: Belga

Following the demonstration of detainees in prisons in Forest and Nivelles Tuesday and Wednesday, the International Prison Observatory (IPO) denounced the shortcomings and lack of care by the administration, the Belgian section of the organisation announced Wednesday.

Tuesday morning, detainees of the B wing of the Forest prison demonstrated against the delays in processing and the problem of overcrowding by barricading themselves in that section of the prison for a few hours, Belga News Agency reported.

A similar action developed the next day at the Nivelles prison where disciplinary proceedings were initiated against the initiators of the protest according to the IPO.

The organisation accused the prison administration of silencing detainees despite the fact that they do still have the right to protest. According to a 2005 law, a prison sentence can only obstruct the freedom to come and go, not the freedom of expression or protest.

The IOP criticises the prison administration for ongoing problems with overcrowding and understaffing as well as significant delays in the processing of sentence execution files. The delays have been occurring since February, but the prison administration said the backlog is being cleared.

Prison administration takes action

As a response to these criticisms, the prison administration committed to speeding up the processing of detainees’ files in an email to the Belga News Agency Wednesday. They also reaffirmed that prisoners do have the right to protest, though not if it endangers safety and order.

However, IOP sees this response as less than sufficient.

"It has been a long time since the problems denounced have existed and many actions have been carried out, without any real improvement,” a spokeswoman for the IOP said. “As for the right of prisoners to demonstrate, it does not really exist because, during each movement, the management systematically considers that security is endangered."

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IOP recommends the use of petitions, as they clearly cannot endanger safety, as a way to have the detainees’ voices heard.

Along with the delays in processing, prisons around the country have been overcrowded for years and are growing increasingly so while the prisons are continuously understaffed and resources are being spread thinner among the growing population.

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