Expert opinions

Delinquency in Belgium, punishment in Russia

In Belgium, as in many other countries, delinquency and crime rates are escalating. This is true for both minor and serious crimes. The result of the crime hike and of an effective subsequent response by the national police, is a substantial overpopulation of the local prisons and lack of cells available for imprisonment. Belgian prisons are overcrowded, given the numbers of offenders found guilty and serving their sentences there.

A solution employed by Belgian authorities and designed to reduce the abundance of prisoners per prison, is to request assistance from a neighboring nation. Holland’s Tilburg prison, for example, is looking after some prisoners on Belgium’s behalf. This arrangement has already been in operation for some years, and seems to function quite satisfactory. Nevertheless, one may wonder if this is the best solution available.

There were cases when Belgium intended to send some East European criminals back to their homeland, yet those rejected such an option due to the fact that imprisonment conditions in their native countries are much worse than those in Belgium.

I personally had an opportunity to talk to a Polish guy who had been repeatedly deported from Belgium. He was jailed in our country, in Louvain prison, on several occasions. Residing in Belgium illegally, he was looking forward to being jailed in Louvain once again and portrayed his time in Louvain jail as short vacations.

The jail has to fulfill its role of a penitentiary instrument. In the first turn, a jail is to isolate a criminal and to thus effect a punishment. While in isolation, an offender can contemplate over what he or she did, and arrive to an understanding that laws must be obeyed. Unfortunately, the punishment function of the Belgian penitentiary system fails which is evidenced by the growing numbers of habitual offenders in the country.

But let us suggest that a jail for Belgian prisoners is located elsewhere, in Siberia, to be specific – subject to the consent of the Russia’s authorities, of course, and respective bilateral legislative arrangements. Such a jail would serve the same purpose as the one located in Tilburg, yet the unknown and severe environment and the overall reputation of Siberia would most likely make a potential criminal think twice before committing a wrongdoing. Hence such a fear could result in a crime rate drop.

Russia, in turn, may thus become a major provider of penitentiary services which will generate substantial revenues, create or maintain jobs, and save prisons from staying idle. According to Russian authorities, the number of offenders serving their terms in prisons has been steadily declining and reached 602K in early 2018, whereas it was 886K ten years earlier. As of mid-December 2018, the number decreased further and reached 467K.

It therefore appears that Belgian authorities should assess all pros and cons, and undertake a serious in-depth feasibility study of a possible impact such an arrangement may produce on the overall crime in the country. Based on the said evaluation, this or a similar mechanism might be implemented for the general benefit of our people.

By Alexandre Gelbcke

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