Belgium is said to be in talks with the Netherlands to allow its prison inmates to serve out their sentences in Dutch jails.
Belgium’s jails have reached record levels of overcrowding, whereas its neighbour has around 4000 empty cells available. Belgium’s Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck says several hundred inmates could be transferred but precautions must be put in place: “As the law stands, anyone who is found guilty of a crime must serve out their sentence in the country the offence was committed in. If we want to go ahead with this plan with the Dutch government, we must make sure the judicial system is respected.” Housing inmates abroad only meant to be a stop-gap, as Belgium plans to build seven new jails by 2012, each with 2000 places. But campaigners say penal reform is the solution: “Building more prisons or sending people abroad is not the answer. What we need to do is attack the real causes of overcrowding – too many pre-trial detentions, our sluggish court system and lack of acquittals. We need to re-educate judges who are handing down harsher sentences than they would have done ten years ago.” This is not the first time a Belgian-Dutch prison transfer has been mooted, but many questions remain unanswered. For example, which category of prisoner will be eligible? How much will the operation cost the taxpayer? What it is clear that overcrowding and poor conditions in Belgium’s jails mean something must be done.