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Brussels prison staff strike over assaults and overcrowding

07:13 26/10/2022

Staff at the Saint-Gilles prison have been on strike since Monday evening, with the action expected to last until at least Wednesday.

Unions are not ruling out an extension of the strike, which is being held in response to what prison staff say are dangerous working conditions and overcrowding in outdated facilities.

The strike began on Monday evening and was planned for 48 hours, with the cited concerns described as affecting the prisons in Forest, Saint-Gilles and Berkendael.

Several cases of violence against staff have been recorded in prisons over the past month, including instances of guards being attacked with boiling water.

The common trade union for prison staff filed a strike notice last week, citing these security issues as the main reason for the action.

They say the prisons are overcrowded and there are not enough staff to continue offering effective and productive group activities.

“Several staff members were attacked by prisoners throwing boiling water at them,” Stijn Van den Abeele, VSOA Prisons delegate, told Bruzz.

“One of them was taken to the hospital. That's a bridge too far.”

The prison in Forest is said to be experiencing the brunt of it. After an uprising 10 days ago, the union says security guards still have no control over the inmates.

The new Haren prison currently in the works was supposed to serve as the solution to the problems felt by older Brussels prisons, though some remain sceptical.

“The detainees want clarity about what will happen in Haren and what their day-to-day life will be like,” said Van den Abeele.

“They have openly stated that things will get worse, and they have already threatened to take the staff hostage.”

While the first inmates were initially planned to move to the new facility from mid-October, this has already been postponed until early November.

“In my opinion, Haren is not ready at all,” said Van den Abeele.

“I was there last week and three quarters of the doors don't have proper locks yet. You can open them with your little finger, so to speak.”

The new prison is expected to host 1,190 inmates, but the union for prison staff said it was concerned about staffing issues.

“We are cautiously positive, but the big problem of the lack of staff looms,” said Van den Abeele.

Laurent Lardinois, regional secretary of the union, put it more bluntly, saying “the rate of aggression is soaring”.

“There was a riot in Forest and attacks on staff in Saint-Gilles,” said Lardinois. “The conditions of detention are execrable and the working conditions unacceptable.”

Written by Helen Lyons