"Time flies in a Dutch prison"

The last 'Belgian' inmates have left the Dutch gaol of Tilburg. Belgium had convicts (both Belgian nationals and foreigners) serve their time in the Netherlands for 7 years to tackle the problem of overcrowded Belgian prisons. Both inmates and prison guards looked back with nostalgic feelings.

Belgium started renting cells in Tilburg in 2010, with the number of Belgian convicts reaching 650 at its peak. However, the overpopulation in Belgian prisons has now eased, the number of inmates having dropped from 12,000 in 2010 to some 10,300 now. Belgium has also opened some new detention centres.

Various Belgian inmates found it hard to give up their Dutch prison cell. "I also served time in Bruges, Ieper and Ghent", one man told the VRT. "Nothing compares to a Dutch prison. Time flies here. (...) There is one thing though: the food." The food in Dutch prisons cannot match the Belgian prison cuisine, it turns out. One man labelled the food in Tilburg as "dog food".

"Belgians have good manners"

The Dutch prison guards said they quite liked to work with Belgian inmates. "It may sound strange but I think that Belgians are very well mannered. We totally didn't mind looking after them", one woman said.

The approach in Dutch prisons is quite different from that in Belgium. Prison staff can be divided in two categories: prison guards monitoring safety issues, and a kind of social workers who maintain a close, familiar contact with the inmates. Convicts can talk to them, call them by their first name and shake hands. Tilburg prison also worked with an "open door system", under which prisoners were allowed to visit colleagues.