Belgium is abolishing all prison sentences under one year

The proposal will both save money and lead to a more effective justice system, the country's government says

Jon Stone
Friday 20 March 2015 16:29 GMT
A prison cell
A prison cell (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

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Belgium is to scrap all prison sentences under one year in length as part of efforts to reform its justice system, the country’s government has said.

The Belgian federal government is worried that short prison sentences could actually encourage small-time criminals to break the law again and argues that such punishments are ineffective and expensive.

The country’s justice minister Koen Geens, an MP for the centre-right Christian Democratic and Flemish party, said short prison sentences were not helpful.

“A short prison sentence, a try-out in jail, rarely leads to good results. It does not contribute to re-integration, but helps inmates to learn bad habits," Mr Geens told MPs on the announcement of the measures.

“Usually we take bad habits when we are so shortly in prison, there is little human improvement,” he added.

Mr Geens said he wanted to see alternative sentences handed out to criminals.

The Belgian government says the reforms will make the county’s penal system more modern and effective.

Cost as well as principle appears to be driving the move, however: the Belgian justice ministry’s budget was cut from €1.9bn in 2014 to €1.7bn in 2015, according to Belgian public broadcaster RTBF.

Mr Geens denied that the plan was being brought forward only to save money, however, arguing that it “would have been equally useful in another budgetary context”.

Prisoners sentences to five years in jail will also be released automatically after half their sentence unless objections are raised by the prosecution.

Prisoners serving longer sentences will also be considered for early release.

The country also plans to reduce the number of courts, cut transport costs, and reduce appeal opportunities in order to save public money.

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