Key ministers approved a so-called Master Plan for Belgian jails yesterday morning, but this could not convince prison guards. The plan stipulates that new penitentiaries will be built, while others are being extended or thoroughly renovated.
Trades unions say it will take years before these projects will be finished, and continue their opposition against the austerity plans. "French-speaking prison guards want to get back to the situation in 2014 and are sticking to their guns", Gino Hoppe of the socialist union ACOD explains.
Koen Geens retorts that prison guards are focussing too much on staff numbers. "The future of Belgian prisons is not about increasing staff numbers time and again. This is exactly what has been done too much in the past." Because of this one-sided approach, other challenges were neglected, Mr Geens explains, such as infrastructure, working climate, inmate policies etc. "I am working on all these points at the same time. I am convinced this is the right approach."
Belgian army called to the rescue
Because of the deadlock, even soldiers had to step in, replacing police officers who normally have to take over the prison guards' task. However, as soldiers have not been properly trained for this task, everyone agrees that this not a good solution. The situation for both inmates, police and soldiers is becoming untenable meanwhile.