For five months, the inmates of the Saint-Gilles prison have not had access to any collective activity, including education, sports, library, socio-cultural events, discussion groups and collective worship.
Under the Principles Act, every inmate in Belgium is still entitled to his or her fundamental rights and may prepare for reintegration into society. But many prisoners in the country no longer enjoy this right because budget cuts have meant the cancellation of work and social reintegration activities.
The situation comes about from the budgetary streamlining of the Justice Department, which has reduced staff throughout the prison system. In light of the cuts, the department decided to unilaterally suspend inmate work and reintegration activities.
This cancellation has multiple impacts:
- On detainees: There are 720 detainees who, because of the cuts, are deprived not only of some of their fundamental rights, but also of useful, even essential, activities to prepare them for their return to the society.
- On social workers: This measure touches the lives of 136 professionals (social workers, criminologists, psychologists, teachers and workshop leaders) who work in 26 service sectors to help litigants and detainees. In addition, prison officers must perform their duties in a tense and uncomfortable atmosphere.
- On society: Prisoners will now no longer be able to begin rehabilitation work and will see themselves as having limited rights, which can only have a negative impact on their reintegration into society. But we as a society are heavily invested in their successful reintegration and have everything to lose if they are deprived of their fundamental rights and unable to successfully reintegrate into society.
The cancelled work programs, which include 50 vocational rehabilitation trainings covering language, cooking, management, computer science and calculus, help strongly to fight against recidivism, which has a human and social cost, and contribute to the maintenance of “social peace” within the prison – and, indirectly, the safety of all citizens.
This situation cannot continue, given that basic rights are jeopardized both for inmates and workers. The budget cuts challenge the very existence of reintegration services and endanger the livelihoods of workers, who are forced to lose hours or face termination altogether.
The situation requires a comprehensive solution that meets the conditions of life and work for all parties concerned. It should not be possible that we find such restrictions on human rights in the heart of Europe.