Prison conditions at Vorst “inhuman”
The conditions at the prison in the Vorst commune of Brussels are “inhuman”, according to a senior magistrate who paid a visit to the prison last week. Luc Hennart, chief magistrate of the court of first instance in Brussels, was accompanied by five of his colleagues. “The prisoners are kept 23 hours a day three to a cell intended for one person,” he said. “One of them has to sleep on a mattress on the floor.” Some of the cells have no running water or no toilet. “I don’t think there are adequate words to describe such a situation,” said Hennart.
The prison, which dates from the 19th century, is due to close in 2016, with the prisoners moving to a new prison complex in the Haren neighbourhood of Brussels. In the meantime, penal authorities and successive ministers argue that there is little that can be done to remedy the situation in the current prison.
One suggestion posed is to reduce the number of people being detained on remand – charged and awaiting trial, but not yet tried and convicted. Remand prisoners, who in legal terms must be considered innocent, account for one-third of the prison population at Vorst. Because of the situation in Vorst and nearby Sint-Gillis prison, the Brussels prosecutor’s office has instructed investigating magistrates to keep remand cases to an absolute minimum.