Prison wings destroyed during riots at Merksplas

Summary

About 200 prisoners were involved in rioting at the jail in Antwerp province, causing extensive damage and leaving two people injured

‘Never seen anything like it’

More than 100 inmates have been transferred after an uprising at the weekend against overcrowding and poor conditions at Merksplas prison (pictured) in Antwerp province. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Merksplas mayor Frank Wilryckx. “The damage is enormous.”

The incident began on Saturday evening when prisoners were called to return to their cells following afternoon exercise. The men refused and occupied the prison yard, breaking furniture and smashing windows with stones. Other prisoners began setting fires in their cells, and police and firefighters were called in to help.

About 200 prisoners were involved in the riot, with reports of two people injured. Wilryckx said calm was restored on Sunday morning. “The emergency services have dispersed, and the prisoners are back in their cells,” he said. About 100 have been transferred, including the leaders of the uprising, as well as prisoners whose cells are uninhabitable because of damage.

“This will have a lasting effect on the prison’s capacity,” he said. “There’s a great deal of damage. Several wings have been destroyed. Not only were fires set, but cell doors were broken, locks smashed and holes made in walls.”

A similar incident in a prison in Antwerp on Sunday evening was quickly resolved, prison authorities said, after a number of inmates refused to return to their cells. Some of those involved may have been new arrivals from Merksplas. Police negotiators quickly restored the situation to normal, while a rapid response team was on standby.

Conditions at Merksplas, which houses 671 prisoners, are known to be difficult as the structure, originally built as a poorhouse, is nearly 200 years old. Prisoners have complained in the past about the lack of facilities.

Photo: Kristof Van Accom/BELGA