Belgium to invest 1 billion euros in prisons

During the coming years, the Belgian government is to invest 1 billion euros in the renovation of existing prisons and the building of seven new gaols across the country. The new prisons will be built with the help of private investors.

Key ministers of the federal government gave their go-ahead for the so-called Master Plan for the Belgian prisons today.

Seven new prison buildings will be constructed: in Leuze-en-Hainaut (300 places), Marche-en-Famenne (300 places), Dendermonde (444 places), Beveren (300 places), Merksplas (440 places), Antwerp (440 places) and Haren (1,060 places). The penal institution in Haren will replace the gaols in Sint-Gillis, Berkendaal and Vorst in the Brussels area.

Other existing prisons get new sections, like in Ghent and Antwerp.

The Master Plan for the Belgian prisons was launched by the previous Justice Minister, Jo Vandeurzen (Flemish Christian democrat) in 2008. Its initial goal was to have the new prisons ready by 2012. The latest plan by present Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck (Flemish Christian democrat) has set 2013-2014 as the new deadline for the new buildings to be finished.

"We are a bit behind on schedule, but it's nothing dramatic", says Mr De Clerck. "Things are really moving now. This is the biggest investment ever concerning prison capacity." Belgium has had a shortage of prison places for years. The latest plans should reduce the problem of overcrowding.