Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Belgium rents out Dutch jails

Interesting article in the Guardian Weekly on the news that the Belgian government is hiring out prisons in Holland left empty due to their declining prisoner population. The Dutch government was due to shut eight prisons leaving 1,200 wardens out of work but the soaring crime rate in Belgium has stepped in to their rescue.

The illiberal nature of the Belgian penal system, which hardly uses tools like community service, has seen the prison population expand at record rates. This puts pressure on everyone and the article states that "Prison staff are exasperated and take frequent industrial action, and the inmates riot at any excuse." I suspect 'any excuse' is an exaggeration, but let's leave that one side for the moment.

What's interesting about the situation is that Belgium is going to try to solve their situation by building eleven new jails and renting out one in Holland rather than taking at look at what the Dutch have done to reduce the number of inmates they house. Instead of learning about how they have reduced their crime rate over the long term and, the possibly connected fact, that they use non-custodial options like community service more frequently, the Belgian authorities are determined to get tough - which is why their prisons are at 150% capacity and their crime rate continues to increase.

Whilst I've no massive objection to this as a short term measure (although reintegrating prisoners back into the community might be more difficult if they are housed in a different country) clearly the Belgian authorities should be looking at how to reduce the amount of crime not simply focus on dealing with the increasing number of criminals. Sadly this seems unlikely at this time due to a previous scandal around early prisoner release which seems to have soured the political debate.

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