New prison programme focuses on repeat offenders

Summary

‘Strap’ will put an emphasis on the treatment of specific psycho-social disorders in order to protect potential future victims, say Flanders’ justice minister

‘Prison is a workplace’

The government of Flanders is rolling out a new programme to help prisoners re-integrate into society and to prevent recidivism – the phenomenon of former prisoners re-offending and winding up back in prison. “If we want to prevent even more people being victimised, we have to follow up on and treat perpetrators in prison more vigorously and more effectively,” says Flemish justice minister Zuhal Demir.

The Strategic Action Plan for Assistance and Services, known as Strap, includes coaching and treatment of current detainees as well as follow-up once they are released from prison. Treatment options will target such problems as domestic and sexual violence, substance abuse and psychological trauma.

Every new administration assesses prison programmes and adapts them if they feel it is needed. Whereas the previous administration put more emphasis on the humanitarian treatment and personal development of the prisoners, the Strap programme focuses on specific problems that have a high likelihood of leading to recidivism.

Prison must offer criminals the chance to improve their lives and find their way back to society without re-offending

- Justice minister Zuhal Demir

“Prison has two goals,” says Demir. “The first is keeping people locked up in order to protect the rest of society and to offer some justice to victims. The other is to offer criminals the chance to improve their lives and find their way back to society without re-offending and, therefore, creating more victims.”

Strap has two approaches: Addressing detainees basic needs outside of prison, such as housing and a steady income, and treatment for psycho-social problems. The programme will offers prisoners the chance to address every area of their lives, including education, work, physical and psychological health and housing.

“The prison is a workplace,” says Demir. “It shouldn’t just be a place to serve time but to work on oneself.” As recidivism can be linked to the lack of a job, housing and higher education, other minister cabinets will work on the plan as well.

“With this new Flemish programme, we are taking an important step towards follow-up and coaching of detainees,” says minister-president Jan Jambon. “We must ensure that perpetrators are sufficiently guided while they are still in prison and receive treatment for such serious problems as paedophilia and sexual violence. This will help them re-integrate into society and prevent others from being victimised.”

Photo ©Bruno Fahy/BELGA