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Brussels: The struggle against the construction of a maxi-prison

This analysis was originally published in “Ricochets” n° 1 in November 2014, a newsletter in French on the struggle against the construction of the maxi-prison in Haren, Brussels. The following text is the first in a series of translations by Person(s) Unknown Publications, as part of a new brochure in the making on the struggle against the maxi-prison:

The Belgian state want to build a new prison in Haren, north of Brussels. It is supposed to become the largest prison in Belgium, a maxi-prison [a massive prison-complex], a genuine prison town that would include five different prisons on the same terrain. Like other new prisons built in the last two years, this one in Brussels would also be developed by what is called a “private-public partnership”. This means that the construction and management of the prison is entirely in the hands of private companies, and that the State rents out for 25 years to these companies, after which it eventually becomes state property. Therefore you don’t have to look far to understand the huge economic interests that this project represents.

The maxi-prison will also be the first Belgian prison where it will be possible to lock up vast numbers of people at the same time (the complex composes of 1,200 cells), for men as for women and children. A court established within the prison is intended to help limit the detainees movements even more to a minimum.

The construction of this atrocity is the icing on the cake of the “master plan” designed by prior governments, envisaging the construction of approximately nine new prisons, throughout the country. This plan is sold to the public as the ultimate answer to overpopulation, and the advanced breakdown of certain prisons, as a major step towards more humane confinement, with more attention to the integrations of prisoners. Such a manoeuvre became almost inevitable for power, seeing that for years the prison world has been plagued by escapes, hostage-taking of prison guards, refusal to go back to the cells, large and small uprisings. In addition, detention conditions have led to several international authorities slapping the Belgian state on the wrist. They therefore want to do away with the disorder, revolt and international attention. But all this ‘out of a hat’ humanisation discourse in times of supposed crisis, to ensure that the public accepts this enormous influx of money for imprisonment, is obviously absolute bullshit. This is only contemporary packaging for something ancient; the power that sharpens its repressive weapons even more; to shelter itself, to defend its system, to preserve its direction towards more control and oppression.

In different ways we currently inject money into the Justice System of Belgium. There are not only the thousands of new cells, there is also the extension of electronic tagging, house arrest, community service, fines, etc. For the state, it is not to humanise its punishments, but instead to extend them to all those who continue to re-enter DIY structures to stay out of the lap of justice. In greatly increasing the prison capacity and expanding the possibilities for alternative sentencing, they want to give us all the possible means to have more of a grasp in society; in order to punish even more people and lock them up in prison, their accommodation, with a job, or financial debts.

And the powerful understand more than ever that the achievement of this goal is not only by the traditional foundations of the repressive apparatus. If we look at the city of Brussels, we see that the maxi-prison is not the only project with the objective to control people, to determine their behaviour in different ways, to influence and to limit their daily lives. To the far remote corners of the city, the projects that evidently grow like mushrooms: the construction of new police stations to the installation of more CCTV, additionally by the increased presence of police in the street. The extension of the European district to create an extremely well controlled public transport network, that must bring the workforce living outside of the city quickly and efficiently to their workplace. The construction of temples dedicated to ever-growing consumption, the implementation of new expensive accommodation in the poorest neighbourhoods, so as to achieve “social cleansing”. All these brilliant inventions are nothing more than instruments with the sole aim of keeping people in line, or to force them to toe the line, and; to target, humiliate, hunt or lock up those who can not, or who consciously refuse. The new maxi-prison in Haren and the urban renovation in Brussels are two sides of the same coin.

It’s been almost two years since the first leaflets expressing a radical opposition to the construction of the prison were distributed in Haren, connecting the umpteenth repressive project of the state directly with the slow but certain transformations of the city into a large open-air prison. Since then, the struggle was born which has experienced many different initiatives and intensities: leaflets, posters, tags, gatherings, occupations, demonstrations, sabotage and direct action. All these initiatives breath an anti-political attitude, and are an invitation to each and everyone to also go on the attack, into direct conflict with the powerful and their plans. They also claim autonomy of the struggle, encouraging everyone to organise themselves when, how and with whom he/she/they deem best, in direct confrontation against that which oppresses us.

The construction of the maxi-prison in Haren will never be prevented only with words. Imagination, ideas, perseverance, passion and acts of each and everyone of us can fuel a fire that not a single project, of any stronghold of power, is able to resist. Continue to explore the paths, taking action.

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