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No more prison sentences for minor offences, announces justice minister

Illustration picture shows the prison of Saint-Gilles - Sint-Gillis, part of the Brussels Capital Region, Monday 13 July 2020. (BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE)
05:50 06/07/2021

With the new penal code expected to come into force in 2022, Belgian judges will no longer be able to impose imprisonment on those committing the lightest offences, justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told De Standaard on Monday.

The category of offences which will no longer carry a prison sentence includes minor forms of vandalism, such as graffiti, or certain traffic offences where there are no victims. Violations of the health rules put in place to fight against the coronavirus will also no longer lead to imprisonment, says the minister.

Exempting some crimes from prison sentences is a politically sensitive issue. In the previous administration, the Flemish N-VA party in particular opposed it.

In addition to the exemption, Van Quickenborne also said that he does not want to increase the length of prison sentences, except for sexual offences.

From 1 December, under the terms of a recently agreed decree, all prison sentences regardless of length will be carried out. At the moment, all sentences under six months are not currently enforced, while sentences of less than three years automatically require the offender to wear an ankle bracelet rather than be locked up. From December, the sentencing judge will be able to send people to prison for up to 15 days, for example.

The implementation of all sentences from 1 December will eventually require 600 to 700 extra places in Belgium’s prisons, bringing the population in the country’s already overcrowded system to above 11,000. The government will open detention centres this year to ease the pressure while the new prisons at Haren and Dendermonde are due to open by the end of 2022.

Written by Nick Amies