Belgian gang leader arrested then released
In Houthalen (Limburg) the leader of a gang of youths was arrested only to be release soon after because there was no room in a juvenile detention centre.
This year already close to 200 youngsters have walked free for the same reason.
The release of the gang leader was tough for the mayor of Houthalen Alain Yzermans (Flemish Socialist) and the municipal police to swallow. "I have my doubts about how the judicial system operates," says the mayor. "How can the police, the public prosecutor and the local administration be motivated to do their work if the last link in the chain - the judiciary- doesn't do what it's supposed to?"
The release of the gang leader is not an isolated incident. Last year almost 300 youngsters were arrested but then let go because there was no room in the juvenile detention centres. This is the case of almost 200 youths already this year, and we are not even half way through the year.
"There is indeed a problem with overcrowding"
"In the juvenile detention centres, just like in the prisons, there is indeed a problem with overcrowding," said Justice Minister Stefaan De Clerck (Flemish Christian Democrat) to VRT Radio 1 in this morning's programme. "We indeed need to create extra capacity in Flanders and in Wallonia, and we are working on it," De Clerck told Radio 1.
"But I don't think we need to build more and more detention facilities. The juvenile judge should look at the situation case by case and decide what the most suitable protective and punitive measures are to take. Who belongs in a detention facility? And who would be better off with an alternative sanction?"