Street nurses call for a prison system that leads to reintegration

From 19 November till 5 December 2021 will take place the National Days of Prison. A pluralistic group of associations and organizations instituted these days some years ago to inform and stimulate reflection about the prison situation in Belgium.

That situation is seriously worrying and was denounced especially by the Belgian Section of the International Observatory on Prisons: in addition to overpopulation and structural lack of staff, they now also suffer from all the problems caused by the Covid crisis.

Some patients of Street Nurses may land in prison at a certain point. Our follow-up should, however, not stop at the walls of these penitentiary institutions. Nevertheless, we are facing numerous problems:

  •  it’s difficult to visit our patients in prison – and even when it’s possible, chaotic circumstances in the social visiting spaces make any conversation particularly arduous. However, contact with our patients is necessary to maintain their follow-up and strengthen our relationship – in the longer term that is essential.
  • contacts with prison staff are also particularly complicated.
  • care, if any, of people with mental health problems is totally inadequate; moreover, their place is not in prison but in institutions for social protection tasked to provide necessary care.
  • social procedures are put on stand-by when a person is incarcerated (except the reference address) although having a home is often the condition for release (possibly with an electronic bracelet). We have possibilities to provide housing but under the condition (both at Street Nurses and Social real estate offices) that the patient/detainee has an income.
  • without realistic plans for liberation, people land once more on the street or, even worse, find shelter with a squatter among our patients, which reduces the chances for both to find a home and stable circumstances.

Article 9 of the Belgian basic law of 12 January 2005 on prisons and the legal position of detainees stipulates in substance that imprisonment not only has the aim of repairing the injustice suffered by the victims of the infringement but also the rehabilitation of the convicted person and the personalized preparation of his/her reintegration in free society. (free, unofficial translation)

Reintegration and rehabilitation strongly depend on psychological care and a durable housing solution when a person leaves prison. To this end, anything that can facilitate the follow-up of our patients in prison is of essential importance.