Belgium: diverging pathways

Building ‘mega-prisons’ while opening ‘detention houses’: a paradox

< image © Valentin Lombardi.

Changing the scale” series (8)

In recent years, the Belgian authorities have followed a policy of ‘Masterplans’ which involves the construction of ‘mega-prisons’. The opening of the Haren prison in November 2022, with a capacity of 1,200 prisoners, was one of its concrete expressions. At the same time, the prison estate has welcomed the creation of smaller facilities, such as detention houses, for prisoners serving a sentence of less than three years, and transition houses for those approaching the end of their sentence. Two detention houses are currently operational and many more have been announced by the government.

The development and coexistence of these seemingly opposing approaches to detention raise a number of questions. Prison Insider wanted to find out more.

Helene De Vos is the executive director of Rescaled, a European movement proposing the concept of ‘detention houses’ instead of large prison institutions. An-Sofie Vanhouche is an assistant professor focusing on correctional institutions and detention experiences in Belgium. Prison Insider asked them three questions

Policymakers have different views on the direction that should be taken.

The goal is to normalise life in these facilities and that can be done thanks to the closeness of the community around.

It doesn’t make sense to lock people up for so many years in large and overcrowded prison institutions.