The nursing staff of the Institution of Social Defense (EDS) in Paifve, a town near Liège, Belgium, addressed members of the Belgian government, including several members of the Justice Commission of the House, following the announcement that several fixed-term contracts will not be renewed. The team of doctors and psychologists at the facility has already been significantly reduced, making proper medical and psychological care almost impossible.
Funding for adequate care is essential for EDS facilities, which offer housing to detainees that is between prison and a halfway house, allowing more time in common spaces and better care to detainees. With the cuts, the 208 detainees at Paifve will be forgotten: their care in the future will be by two psychiatrists working 24 hours per week and two psychologists, one only part-time.
In the Justice Commission on November 26, Minister of Justice Koen Geens said that EDS Paifve was very important to him, but that the contract renewals would depend on the decisions of the management board of the Federal Public Service Justice and the Inspectorate of Finance, and that their aim is to cut costs. The League of Human Rights supports the idea of better personnel management and proper work evaluation, but this must certainly be a distinction from the announced reduction of the workforce. It is even more so if one supports the coalition agreement, which provides "sufficient budgetary resources to ensure the implementation of new legislation on detention."
The dismantling of care
LDH has already given its position about it, recalling the numerous condemnations of Belgium by the European Court of Human Rights, the catastrophic state of social defense structures, which are managed by the justice ministry, and more generally the responsibility of the state, which decides to "put away" citizens it considers responsible for their actions despite their mental conditions.
In general, budget cuts in recent years in the field of justice (strengthening of security, prioritizing the construction of new facilities, little or no attention to the reintegration process) directly impact the health care of prisoners, including care teams. The dismantling of care services has been a work in progress for a long time now and what is going on to EDS Paifve is only one example. LDH also recalls its concern about the privatization of certain "services" for the internees. In this respect, the budgetary restrictions of the Forensic Psychiatry Center of Ghent are a result of politicians underestimating the budget concerning actual care needs of patients.
In this context, is it reasonable to still believe the government when it says it wants to commit to solve the chronic problem of confinement? If it really wants to tackle this issue, it should consider the possibility of transferring healthcare from Federal Public Service Justice to FPS Health (formerly the justice and health ministries). Many civil society actors and public authorities believe this move could help provide more responsible and consistent support to internees. “Fiscal discipline" and institutional complexity should not be synonymous with abandoning the state's missions and responsibilities.