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Haren’s prison 'village' to see light of day in 2022
Haren, a real ‘village in the city’ some 12km from the Grand-Place and yet still part of Brussels commune, will get its controversial prison in 2022, according to project contractor Denys. When built, it will gradually replace Brussels’ existing penitentiary institutions at Saint-Gilles, Forest and Berkendael.
Work is continuing daily to construct around 10 four-five storey buildings which will hold around 1,190 prisoners at the 15-hectare site, said Denys managing director Bruno Geltmeyer.
“The idea is to create a village atmosphere,” Geltmeyer said about the prison that will cost an estimated €382 million to build. “There will be not one, but many separate buildings containing small units where the inmates will live in groups of around 30 people.”
The plan is for the Haren site to contain prisons for men where male suspects await trial and where they serve their actual sentence; detention and open (low-security) centres for women, a clinical observation centre; and a psychiatric department and medical centre. At the heart of the complex, which features solar panels and energy-efficient lighting, will be a ‘town hall’ where visitors are welcomed.
Calling the prison a ‘village’ is a metaphor to explain the prison’s philosophy, the company says on its website. “It is not done according to the Ducpétiaux principle (Saint-Gilles prison, avenue Ducpétiaux) any more, with long hallways that join together at one point. Different prisoners are housed in specific buildings and there are also communal facilities (such as visitor rooms, training rooms, workshops and a sports hall).
“The prison is therefore like a campus… with prisoners moving around from their section to the communal facilities, similar to how people carry out their daily lives, going to work, to sport clubs or to worship.”
Splitting up a prison into several units instead of a whole block is a new concept. And Haren’s creators say this will improve the quality of life of the prisoners and staff and be a big improvement on conditions seen in Brussels’ other prisons, “that no longer meet modern day comfort requirements and are built with an isolation regime in mind.”
Haren prison may be an improvement but it is not the final answer, according to Belgium’s justice minister Koen Geens at his last site visit: “It is neither a unique nor a standardised model,” he said. “But clearly, as long as prisons exist, we need to modernise them. Let’s hope that in the 22nd century we will have found another concept, like the prison in its day replaced the death penalty.”
Meanwhile, Haren residents continue to protest the project, notably on environmental grounds. Denys affirms however that “no ecologically valuable area will be lost as the site was always destined to be used for industrial and/or administrative activities.”