“We are doing too little to prepare prisoners for the future”: experts denounce the lack of help and resources for the reintegration of prisoners

Frederick contacted us via the orange button Alert us to denounce the lack of help upon his release from prison. Concretely, what is done in our society to help prisoners who have finished their sentence? The specialists we met are clear: there are not enough resources to really help prisoners reintegrate.

Frederick, a former inmate and now on an electronic bracelet, deplores a lack of follow-up and help to reintegrate into society. Released from prison in February, he contacted us via the orange button Alert us to share with us his difficulties: “My physical and mental health are affected, not to mention that the follow-up after release is zero, even the help is totally zero”he writes.

Complicated reintegration after a stint in prison

Now on an electronic bracelet since February, Frederick managed to find work as a truck driver. Concretely, he has the right to go out from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and when he works, he has the right to 12 p.m. But his reintegration is sometimes complicated, particularly at the social level because prison made him lose his bearings, but also at the financial level, he explains to us: “Prison doesn’t help. It’s been hell for me! And it’s very difficult to get out of it. We have to find work, get by financially… Today, I’m in debt mediation, I can’t do it. The bills keep coming, the rent too and we don’t get anything, I still don’t have a cent from the CPAS. unemployment, I get nothing.”

Too little is being done to prepare inmates for the aftermath

Frederick received a total sentence of 21 months. He served 8 months in prison before being released and put on an electronic bracelet. For him, justice puts people in prison too easily, he explains to us: “We go to prison extremely quickly. I had a short sentence. We lock up anyone, but prison can destroy even more. It was hell for me. And when I get out, there is no help. not here”, denounces Frederick. Precisely, Alain Grosjean, president of the non-profit organization “Leaving prison” explains: “Prison is a very traumatic time for the incarcerated person, for different reasons: overcrowding, promiscuity, the dilapidation of the prisons… These are very difficult conditions, and we do not come out at all unscathed. It is very difficult to regain a foothold in society afterwards.”

Today in Belgium, there are 12,316 prisoners for a total of 10,743 places, i.e. a rate of 15% prison overcrowding at the national level, according to the latest figures from the FPS Justice. Despite the addition of 280 emergency beds, as of March 1, 2024, 250 inmates were still sleeping on mattresses on the floor. A year earlier, on March 1, 2023, there were 11,402 prisoners for 9,755 places, an overcrowding of almost 17%. Our country is also the 4th in Europe where prison overpopulation is the most significant.

So to understand what is really being done to help prisoners who leave prison to reintegrate socially and professionally, we met Mr. Marc Neve, lawyer specializing in criminal law and in particular in prison law, but also president of the CCSP (Central Council of prison surveillance). And Alain Grosjean, president of the non-profit organization “Leaving Prison” which helps prisoners and supports them in their efforts. And both are clear: there are not enough resources to really help prisoners reintegrate. And that’s a problem.

A “detention plan” provided for by law to help detainees reintegrate: due to lack of resources, this project has not materialized

The law of January 12, 2005, regarding the rights of prisoners, defines the Central Prison Surveillance Council (CCSP) as an independent and impartial body of control and advice ensuring the rights and human dignity of detained persons. Their role is to ensure these rights during the prison sentence. But once they leave, the CCSP no longer has any skills, Marc Neve explains to us.

Normally, the detention time should be used to prepare for release

This law provides for a “detention plan” which aims to plan the release, and therefore the reintegration of a detainee into society. “It is a project that the inmate is supposed to develop in consultation with the prison management to see how his sentence and his release will look like. It is support for the inmate in his projects, seeing what learning to consider, what training, etc. But this detention plan has not yet come to fruition because we do not have the means… And that is completely regrettable.”explains Marc Neve.

And for good reason, Belgian prisons are doing badly: prison overcrowding, lack of staff, lack of financial resources… At the Haren prison, although recently opened, there is a shortage of 200 guards, and the sections are already overcrowded. Such a project cannot therefore be realized due to lack of resources. “To ask a detainee how he is going to reintegrate when he has not been prepared for it is impossible to imagine! Hence the importance of implementing these detention plans, that is what he is sorely missed”adds the lawyer specializing in prison law and president of the CCSP.

“We do too little to prepare detainees for what comes next, there are too few means to provide correct and useful support. Normally, detention time should be used to prepare for release. In the vast majority of cases, the “Detainees always end up getting out, whether it’s a short or long sentence. And this is what the “detention plan” provides for, which is not implemented due to lack of resources.” outbid Alain Grosjean.

There are other possibilities which should be preferred to prison for short sentences

No reintegration = no more recidivism: in Belgium, it is estimated that there is a 60% recidivism rate

For Marc Neve, the reintegration of prisoners is therefore non-existent in our country: “Today, that doesn’t exist. It’s the associations outside the prison that come to help and offer training and support, but it depends on the prisons. And these external associations don’t always have the means to help the prisoners who ask them There is a cruel lack of means to provide reintegration assistance.he laments.

However, going to prison is not without consequences on the prisoners, both physically and psychologically: “When we are incarcerated, we are cut off from society. Often, the contacts we had before fade away, we lose our job, our housing… and above all we lose certain social benchmarks which mean that when we leave prison , we are completely lost And we add to that the stigma: when we have the label “leaving prison”, it’s even more complicated.” specifies Alain Grosjean.

The risk of recidivism increases the longer the incarceration

The former inmate often finds himself in a situation that he can no longer manage: “If you are no longer in contact with your family, you are really left to your own devices. And the consequence is very simple: when you find yourself alone and without anything, and with very little means, it is recidivism “, he adds. In Belgium, we count 60% recidivism rate, according to the National Institute of Criminalistics and Criminology (INCC), a branch of the FPS Justice. Concretely, this means that 3 out of 5 people will repeat what they were convicted of. “And it’s huge, it explains a lot of things”.

Especially since, as Marc Neve explains, prison can be “counterproductive” and have the opposite effect: “An inmate who arrives in prison for something not so serious can be influenced by his fellow inmates. It gives them ideas, and once out, they will take action. There is a worsening of the situation the more detention is long. The risk of recidivism also increases the longer the incarceration.he points out.

Prison, not always the solution?

For Alain Grosjean, who sees it on the ground, prison is not THE ultimate solution to be applied every time, nor for all sentences: “Prison is not a punishment suitable for everyone. We must protect society from certain people, that’s for sure, but it’s far from the majority of people who are incarcerated. I believe that 80% of people who end up in prison should not be there and should be able to benefit from alternative measures, from support in their journey, and from understanding what led to this act. while recognizing, and this is necessary, that criminal acts must not be allowed to go unpunished.”.

We have just voted on a new penal code which says that prison is the last solution.

He explains that punishment must be constructive, but this is not always the case with prison: “We must allow the person, and this would be of great benefit to society, to regain a foothold in society, to become aware of their act and to see how they could repay society for the damage they may have done. Punishment must be constructive.

Marc Neve also shares this opinion: “There is a range of other possible penalties: you can impose conditions, that is to say undergo treatment, or you can refrain from associating with this or that person, there can be more or less strict conditions. There are also work sentences: carrying out work for the benefit of the community is important. Then there is the electronic bracelet. There are other possibilities which should be preferred to prison for short sentences.“.

By short sentence we mean prison sentences of less than 3 years. In the past, prisoners who had to serve a sentence of less than 3 years served it under the electronic bracelet system and therefore did not clutter the prisons. But since September 1, 2023, sentences of between 6 months and 3 years must be served in prison. At the time, prison directors raised concerns about prison overcrowding.

For short sentences, it is better to favor alternative sentences

“To serve them, why choose prison? We have just passed a new penal code which says that prison is the last solution, while short sentences must now be served in prison… It’s a paradox“, denounces Marc Neve. He adds: “What does a prison sentence of a few months mean? You lose your job, maybe your home too. At the family level, if you are incarcerated far away, it can also be a separation. For the social and professional environment , it’s a break and why not favor other means than prison?

Instead of “correcting” an individual, prison will rather accentuate or even promote their integration into a deviant culture, according to several scientific studies on the subject. Prison therefore does not always fulfill its rehabilitative role; on the contrary, it can put the inmate in a certain trap, but also “break” him psychologically. This is why we must favor alternative sentences for short sentences (between 6 months and 3 years), according to Marc Neve and Alain Grosjean, but also numerous studies or even according to the Council of Europe. Especially since the link between prison and recidivism has already been proven repeatedly by numerous studies.

reintegration prison prison inmates

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