Belgium to scrap prison sentences less than 1 year from penal code

Reuters / Charles Platiau
Belgium plans to axe all prison sentences of less than 12 months as part of a large-scale reform to modernize the country’s penal system and make it more efficient.

Earlier this week, Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens told parliament short prison sentences have proven ineffective.

“A short prison sentence, a try-out in jail, rarely leads to good results. It does not contribute to re-integration, but helps inmates to learn bad habits," the minister is cited as saying by Reuters.

According to Geens, alternative sentences should be handed out to criminals who commit minor offences.

The minister’s also said inmates serving sentences of up to five years will be automatically released after they have served half their term, if there is no objection from the prosecutors.

Prisoners serving longer sentences will also be considered for early release, he added.

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In addition, the Belgian government plans to reduce the number of courts, cut transport costs, and downsize appeal opportunities as part of the reform.

According to local media, the Belgian justice ministry’s budget was cut by €200 million this year.

Geens confirmed the plan “would have been equally useful in another budgetary context,” but stressed that money wasn’t the only motivation for the changes.

However, the reform was criticized by the Chairman of Brussels First Instance Court, Luc Hennart, who called it “a magic trick,” which only creates the illusion of saving money.

"Putting fewer people in prison costs less, it's true. But the house of cards collapses when you consider the use of the electronic bracelet,” Hennart told RTBF broadcaster.

The judge said the bracelets, used for non-custodial sentences, are expensive and he’s “not convinced that it will be a lesser punishment for the criminals then a detention.”