Belgium axes prison sentences under a year

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens has revealed details of his new Justice Plan. Under the plan all jail sentences under one year will disappear from the Belgian penal code.

The plan is intended to get the wheels of Belgian justice to turn more efficiently. Mr Geens presented the plan to lawmakers today. The idea is to turn the plan's proposals into law in coming years.

Explaining his decision to abolish custodial sentences under one year Mr Geens told lawmakers: “A short prison sentence, a try-out in jail, rarely leads to good results. It does not contribute to re-integration, but helps inmates to learn bad habits."

In future prisoners sentenced to five years in jail will be released automatically after half their sentence unless the prosecutor objects. Longer sentences will continue to be monitored by sentence implementation courts and they will have to give the go-ahead for an early release.

The use of courts of assizes to try cases will be limited. Such courts will no longer be used to try suspected terrorists or gangsters, but will be limited to trials involving crimes of passion.

The Justice Minister plans to cut the number of courts in Belgium and to cut costs by greater use of electronic communications. Mr Geens also plans to reduce transport costs and appeal opportunities.