Council of Europe orders Belgium to tackle prison overcrowding, poor condition of detention

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The Council of Europe (CoE) has ordered Belgium to take further steps to tackle prison overcrowding and poor conditions of detention, after previous warnings about the similar issue.

The nation has struggled with a chronic overcrowded of prisons for years, resulting in Belgium’s prisons being among Europe’s most densely populated, and detainees having to sleep on the floor as a result of lack of space.

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Several court cases were filed against Belgium regarding various inhumane treatments of prisoners, from the lack of access to toilets and running water to repeated breaches of hygiene rules.

The CoE’s Committee of Ministers expressed its “deep concern at the worsening situation in Belgian prisons” despite various measures implemented which were announced long ago to improve the issue, such as early provisional release.

Belgium has been urged to take further steps to fight against prison overcrowding — the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) already called on the country to establish an effective preventive remedy seven years ago — and to improve overall conditions in detention centres without further delay.

The situation is mainly the result of Belgium’s large number of detainees. The Committee already asked authorities to work towards sustainably reducing the overall number of detainees and grounds for imprisonment and repeated this call by ordering Belgium to create a comprehensive plan to combat overcrowding.

It suggested this could be done by encouraging alternatives to detention where possible — the Flemish government recognised the importance of this, but stressed it was costly — and considering binding measures to regulate the prison population.

This plan would be based on an “integrated and systematic approach to all its factors and measures that make it possible to monitor, in real-time, the evolution of the prison population.”

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