De Wever eyes Moroccan prison solution

  • In a wide-ranging interview granted to Flemish magazine Humo, Bart De Wever raised the subject of prisons.
  • If he were minister of justice, he would attempt to build a prison in Morocco for the 1,200-odd Moroccan convicts currently in Belgian prisons.
  • Are these credible figures? How can they be explained?

 

“There are 1,200 Moroccans being held in Belgian prisons. With them alone, you could build and fill an entire prison in Morocco.” This was, in essence, the minor bombshell that Bart De Wever dropped in the Flemish weekly Humo. In an extensive interview touching on a variety of topics, the president of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) bemoaned the fact that, during the last five years, only 10 to 15 prisoners have been repatriated to serve their sentence in their native countries, via existing transfer procedures. Is a large prison in Morocco, to which convicts from the North African country would be sent, a solution to prison overpopulation in Belgium? The N-VA president did not wish to discuss his statement with Le Soir. It does appear to require some clarification, at the very least.

 

Going by the statistics, Morocco is indeed the most represented country among the foreign inmates that make up 44 % of Belgium’s prison population. But they currently number around 800, according to information obtained by De Standaard. In terms of procedures, there are treaties in existence relating to voluntary and non-voluntary transfers with Council of Europe nations. But when a country, like Morocco, is not a member of the Council of Europe, bilateral agreements need to be signed. It was only in 2011 that Belgium and Morocco came to an agreement on non-voluntary transfers that meet a wide range of conditions. These accrued criteria have therefore reduced the number of Moroccan prisoners that qualify for extradition. For example, in 2011, out of 1,177 Moroccans, just 190 met the criteria. Since then, nine transfers have taken place. As for Algeria, no agreement has ever been reached for voluntary or non-voluntary transfers.

 

That leaves a large number of Moroccans in Belgian prisons. Who are they, and why are there more of them than any other nationality? Philippe Mary, a criminologist at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), is keen to stress three points.

 

First, it has been proven that there is “no automatic link between the level of criminality and the prison population.” Thus, in Finland, crime is rising but there has been no increase in the number of prisoners. As far as the university professor is concerned, the fact that there is a high number of North Africans in prison does not mean that crime is higher within those communities.

 

Second, “Prison is the poor man’s punishment,” states Mary. Socio-economic variables are much more decisive than ethnic variables. Between 80 and 90 % of convicts originate from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.

 

Finally, Mary explains that, “Where other factors are equal, a foreigner is more likely to be thrown in prison and less likely to be offered an alternative punishment than a national citizen.”

 

Why is that? A foreigner recently arrived on Belgian soil who gets mixed up in a crime will have an arrest warrant issued against him more often than a Belgian citizen. In fact, if the foreigner has no ties in Belgium, the chances of him actually making an appearance in court are lower, and so the authorities often prefer to place him in pre-trial detention. And a non-imprisoned accused appearing before a judge has a higher chance of being acquitted than one already in jail.

 

ELODIE BLOGIE

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