The Dupont Act brought hope for better treatment to Belgium’s inmates when it was passed a decade ago, in January 2005. Yet today the law remains largely unimplemented, despite growing pressure from civil society and legal verdicts condemning prisoner treatment in the country.
The underlying principle of the bill, named after the professor who chaired the committee that initiated it, is that inmates remain citizens and legal entities in their own rights. It also adopts the philosophy that a prisoner’s penalty is only the deprivation of free movement and further punitive measures cannot be added to this, and that it is essential to make every effort to ensure prisoners do not suffer adverse effects from detention.
The act recognizes not only a number of fundamental prisoner rights, but also the means to enforce these rights. Among other things, it fixes and details the living conditions in prisons, including work duties and health and visitation privileges, and adjusts the disciplinary system for prisoners and introduces a right of complaint in their favor.
We grow weary from waiting! Almost half of the provisions voted through ten years ago have not been put into practice and are unenforced. Some of these are crucial, especially those related to the right to register complaints or to an individual detention plan.
In October 2013, the Court of First Instance in Brussels condemned the Belgian government for injuries to a prisoner and noted the lack of enforcement of the law. The government has made no official response to the verdict.
What we celebrate this month is, unfortunately and first of all, the negligence of our politicians, who claimed to address the legislative gap that characterizes life in prison, but lacked the courage to actually implement this reform. By passing the law after careful consideration and broad parliamentary consensus, the legislature recognized that a change in practice was necessary, but a decade later the implementation of this change is still largely ignored.
As the European Court recalls, "justice cannot stop at the prison gate." In Belgium, however, it seems that it is still largely the case.
The following organizations contributed to this story: the Trade Union Association of Magistrates, the League of Human Rights, the International Observatory of Prisons and Avocats.be