Flemish welfare minister Jo Vandeurzen has promised to tackle the most pressing problems in the region’s youth detention centres, after an interim report was leaked by one of he government parties. Meanwhile CD&V has accused N-VA – whose member Lorin Parys leaked the report – of “sensationalism” by releasing a report that was never meant for public consumption.
The report paints a disturbing pictures of the dire conditions in which young offenders in Flanders are being kept. The report was the first produced by a new oversight commission for youth institutions.
Among the problems listed were:
One youth who was kept in solitary confinement for 14 days; other detention cells were described as being filthy with no way for the young people to tell what time it was;
In one centre in Everberg, inspectors – civilian volunteers – found taps in cells that did not work, toilets that did not flush and mould on floors and in corners;
On centre in Tongeren had previously been declared unfit to house adults detainees, yet was nevertheless still being used to house youths;
In another centre in Beernem, one youth who was demonstrating suicidal ideation has to wait two weeks before being able to contact the suicide hotline to obtain counselling;
On the whole, the inspectors found, there were many complaints about the level of education provided in the centre, as well as the quality of communication with the young people’s schools, placing their ability to obtain a diploma in jeopardy.
Vandeurzen, the minister responsible for the sector, promised to study the report and begin immediately to tackle the most pressing problems. However he warned that the government was not in a position to carry out wide-ranging changes in the immediate future.
“There is now an external oversight that looks after the rights of young people in locked detention,” he said. “We have to treat this external oversight in an adult manner. We installed it for a reason, and will of course take account of their remarks. We have to learn from what they have to say, and take policy decisions as a result.”