Belgium calls up military for help in prisons amid guards strike


Belgian military personnel and police stand guard around the Central Station in Brussels on March 22, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The Belgian government has called up the country’s military to deploy forces in prisons where the guards are on strike over budget cuts.
According to reports published on Monday, at least 180 soldiers were mobilized to assist the Belgian police in prisons of the capital, Brussels, and the southern region of Wallonia, where prison officers are currently on strike.
The prison guards in Brussels and Wallonia have been protesting against pension age rises and understaffing which has resulted in more overtime work.
“We are currently talking about six platoons of 30 personnel each,” Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said in a statement.
Some of the mobilized soldiers were deployed at the three largest prisons – two in Brussels and one near the southern city of Liege, he added.

Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens talks to the media at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, on March 24, 2016. (AFP photo)

Geens on Friday proposed recruiting 405 new prison officers this year to bring the total to some 7,000 and offering some extra pay for more flexible working practices.
Conditions in Belgian prisons have reportedly worsened with some inmates not receiving certain basic rights such as showers, three meals a day, family visits and access to lawyers.
Unions say low staffing has limited access to courses and other activities that can help reduce violence and prevent prisoners from re-offending.

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