Belgian prisons more overcrowded than ever: 209 prisoners have to sleep on the floor (Binnenland)

In total, the number of detainees in Belgian prisons rose to 11,199 in the second half of this month. This increase is mainly due to the number of people in pre-trial detention. That says Kathleen Van De Vijver, spokeswoman for the Federal Public Service Justice.

At the end of December last year, 10,781 people were incarcerated. That was too much, because the Belgian prisons currently only have a capacity for 9,739 people. “Last year we added three hundred beds in the prisons, but even then 209 prisoners still have to sleep on the floor,” explains Van de Vijver.

The problems are greatest in detention centres. These are the prisons for persons who have not yet been convicted and are in pre-trial detention. And the Begijnenstraat is one of them. There is room for 365 men and 48 women respectively, but 636 men and 55 women are locked up.

The Merksplas prison, which has a closed regime and only accepts people who have already been convicted, has capacity for 406 people. At the moment there are 430 people there.

New Antwerp prison

Meanwhile, Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) has taken measures to reduce the capacity shortage in prisons. Among other things, a new prison was opened in Haren near Brussels, and one will also open in Dendermonde in February

Last year it was decided to also build a new prison in Antwerp. It will be located at Blue Gate, the business park south of the city. The prison should be ready in 2025 and is divided into a wing for 330 men, one for women and a ward for the needy with 44 places.

The extra capacity is mainly intended for people who have already been convicted. “But that can also relieve the pressure on the detention centers. Those who have already been convicted, but are not in a prison due to a lack of space, can then be transferred more easily,” says Kathleen Van de Vijver.

The Christmas dinner in prison: “A special mash, it doesn’t get much more than that”

An Janssens, head of the detention center in Antwerp’s Begijnenstraat. ©  Nattida-Jayne Kanyachalao

The end of the year is also approaching in prison, but there is no question of a special Christmas menu in the detention center in Antwerp’s Begijnenstraat. “The puree will be a bit more special than normal and we will also try to give the menu a little more,” says head of the interior design An Janssens.

Furthermore, people who profess a religion and want to celebrate Christmas can attend a service. Furthermore, the Bond Zonder Naam has provided blank cards, so that the detainees can send a card.

“Overcrowding and a lack of staff means we can’t do much more than that. Normal work must also be done during the end-of-year days,” says Janssens.

The head of the institution regrets that more cannot be done. “The people who live here often have family and friends who celebrate Christmas at home. Those are difficult moments. After all, just because someone is locked up here doesn’t mean that person has no right to celebrate a period like this. Their imprisonment is their punishment.”

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