Belgium’s plan to execute fewer sentences for fewer lesser crimes is being delayed due to continued overcrowding in existing prisons. The plan has now been delayed until next September.
The delay to these reforms applies to sentences of two to three years’ imprisonment. At the same time, the Federal Government has also given itself an extra year delay, until September 2023, when it comes to sentences of less than two years, as per reports.
The plan for shorter sentences is part of broader prison reform in Belgium intended to address overcrowding, including the construction of new penitentiary institutions and increased psychiatric help.
The first efforts to reduce sentences were technically made into law in 2006, and then amended in 2019, but implementation has been continuously stalled. The latest postponement will be debated on Tuesday.
Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, “The cause of this new decision to delay, which is, in fact, the third to date, is needed prison overcrowding.”
“How can we get more people into prison, when prisons are already overflowing, and prisoners are too often locked up in conditions that trample on their rights?”
In explaining the reasons for his decision to Parliament, the Minister of Justice also confirmed his intention not to work for the effective enforcement of sentences of less than six months.
“The execution of sentences of less than six months is still regulated until further notice by ministerial order. In practice, they have not been executed since 1970,” he argued.
“So we will not enforce them now as they will probably be abolished in a few months when the new Penal Code is introduced.”
Van Quickenborne’s timetable for creating enough places to cope with the new influx will remain tight even with the postponement.
The minister is counting on the delivery of the new prisons in Haren and Dendermonde by autumn 2022, which will have 1,190 and 444 places, respectively.