Integration gardens for the socio-professional integration of prisoners in the Walloon region

A look back at the Jardins du Lien experience

Pascale Thys, septembre 2001

Habitat et Participation ASBL

To echo the Jardin du lien project, this sheet proposes to look at what is happening in the Walloon region and what could be replicated there.

This garden project was based on a partnership between various public and private actors and allowed an excluded public (prisoners) to respond to a demand from a disadvantaged neighborhood (development of an unsafe wasteland in a neighborhood of high-rise social housing). The development achieved is sustainable and creates a social link between the inhabitants of the district.

Examples of actions implemented in the Walloon region

There is no such partnership in the Walloon Region. On the other hand, there are many resources and experiences that are carried out separately in gardens and prisons.

Gardens as a tool for socio-professional integration

Various experiments in the use of market gardening as a tool for socio-professional integration exist at the initiative of certain Public Social Welfare Centers (CPAS) - such as those of Namur (market gardening as a tool for integration) and Liege (see below), for example -, other public authorities or even private individuals. The Ligue des Coins de Terre et des Jardins Familiaux, created in 1896, is the oldest actor in the field of integration through horticulture. Its main objectives were, among others, to allow workers and families to have a « change of air », to fight against alcoholism, to bring a food supplement1

The CPAS of Liège, through the « Ferme de la Vache », has created a collective garden that allows the revitalization and resocialization of people through the work of the land and the community development of the neighborhood, family gardens for people with modest incomes and various activities such as table d’hôtes, cooking workshops…

Inspired by the French Jardins de Cocagne, the CPAS of La Louvière is planning to create a garden for integration on the site of the Strépy ponds. The objective of the project is to «  combine social and professional integration of people in difficulty, environmental protection, local development through a responsible and solidarity economy  ». It is a question of creating an Enterprise of Training by Work (EFT), independent of the CPAS, which will offer to the beneficiaries of the minimex and the social assistance, a practical and theoretical training in the culture and the organic breeding. A sponsorship system will be organized, as well as the social accompaniment will be taken in charge by the CPAS.

Collaborations will be established with local producers and breeders. Initially, the harvested vegetables will be sold by subscription basket: members (people who pay a subscription fee) will receive a weekly assortment of seasonal vegetables. The vegetables will be free for people in training. This system is already well developed in the Netherlands and Flanders. The project should develop in different forms: diversification of vegetables and herbs, sale on the market, breeding of small animals, accommodation, educational farm…

In the same municipality, women from the Cité Jardin de Saint-Vaast grow their own vegetables on land made available to them by the city (as part of the Integrated Social Plan). The carpentry workshop of Forem (Walloon public service for employment and training) made the shelters. This experience creates intercultural and inter-generational exchanges…

The Parks and Gardens Unit of the Province of Namur supports and initiates various projects, in particular colloquiums (such as the one on « Solidarity Gardens » in 1999), school gardens, exhibitions, rehabilitation, embellishment and flowering projects within the communes (38 communes participated in 2000), and actions by inhabitants (Quartier de Vie project in the Balances district).

Within the framework of the market gardening and insertion gardens 2, the Cellule plans to :

The Cellule has identified about ten market gardening and integration projects in the Province of Namur.

Integration of prisoners

Training courses are organized for prisoners. For example, training in construction (Jamioulx prison), horticulture (Marneffe prison), car mechanics (Verviers prison), masonry (Lantin prison). The training courses are provided by different operators such as, for example, social promotion, social assistance to the accused, Lire et Ecrire … The different organizations that provide training are grouped together within the FAFEP - Federation of Associations for Training and Continuing Education in Prison. This association publishes a brochure that presents the operators and the training courses available in each prison. Good training is provided, but the offer is meager.

The organizations that organize training activities in prisons have to face some problems due, among others, to the problem of overcrowding (in 2000, 8500 people were incarcerated while the global capacity was 7,502 places 3), to transfers between prisons, to the lack of human resources, to the lack of financial means, to some prison authorities who are afraid to open up to the outside world, to the differences in status (for example, prisoners who cannot get out at all)…

For Alain Harford of the Organization for the Employment of Offenders (OED), there is no real reintegration policy where prisoners can follow a path to integration from the beginning of their incarceration. It is only possible to give a maximum chance of reintegration by creating a maximum number of bridges that progressively reduce the gap between prison and society.

Created in 1998, the OED is a network that supports and encourages any initiative that can help develop better training/employment prospects for (ex)-offenders4 and thus reduce individual delinquency and crime as a whole. It is composed of about 100 experts from all sectors (economic consultancy, employers, lawyers, social services, …).

The OED carries out, in particular, lobbying work to influence legislation on social and professional integration and provides assistance and expertise. It assists associations that run integration programs and develops strategies for employers to hire ex-prisoners5.

The OED, in collaboration with the Walloon region, consulting agencies (Agence conseil 2001), the penitentiary administration and numerous economic and social partners, … to take up the challenge of effectively reintegrating (ex-)offenders through the creation, in the penitentiary environment, of social economy structures.

For example, the OED is collaborating on a social economy pilot project in partnership with, among others, the Saint Hubert detention center, the prison administration, Forem, the ESF, the Défi association and Valbois RN and in consultation with local wood merchants. This is a two-part project. The first one is the setting up of an Enterprise of Training by Work which will organize training in forestry and lumbering. The second part is a social economy enterprise that will cut small wood (small wood is not profitable for the operators) to transform it into various materials such as garden stakes. The wages offered will correspond to the joint agreements of the sector. The staff will be involved in the project as it is proposed to rely on their skills and know-how in this area.

Elements to be reproduced from the Jardin du Lien in Tourcoing

Apparently, all the elements to use the ideas developed by the French experience are available in the Walloon Region. There are training operators for inmates, experiences of integration gardens, inhabitants of housing estates ready to develop projects, funding possibilities for this kind of project…

Training of prisoners

A recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in 1989 states that « all prisoners shall have access to education, which should include basic instruction, vocational training, creative and cultural activities, physical education and sports, social education and the possibility of using a library; (…) further training programmes should be set up to ensure that prison educators adopt methods of education appropriate to adults ».

Prisoners are recognized as one of the target groups that can benefit from European budgets (ESF, Leonardo, …). For example, one of the components of the CIP (Community Initiative Program) Employment, deals with the socio-professional integration of vulnerable or excluded people from the labor market or who are at risk of being excluded, and it finances certain projects. This program has allowed, for example, the hiring of a coordinator and two social workers to supervise training at the Lantin prison. Another example is the Avanti project of the ORS (Office de réadaptation sociale) which has established a partnership with the Chambre syndicale et interprofessionnelle de la construction 6.

The European Forum for the Employment of Offenders (EFOE), which was created in 1993, has carried out a comparative study of prisoner reintegration programs in the countries of the European Union. This has helped to identify and model good practices in this area and to encourage the creation of networks of actors (such as OED) to relay the work done at the European level and to work on the development of legislation, policies and programs at the national and regional levels.

OED’s work in the field of social economy research has shown that the design of projects is based on three axes: a work training system (EFT, OISP, etc.); a structure with a social purpose (SFS); and psychosocial guidance structures.

In 1996, the Belgian Minister of Justice stressed the importance of vocational training, in particular, as a preparation for reintegration.

At the level of competences, the management of prisons is a federal competence and reintegration measures are a regional and community competence. The Region is responsible for assistance to victims and offenders who are no longer in prison, and the French Community is responsible for the ASJ (Aide sociale aux justiciable 7) in the context of their intervention in the prison environment.

The system of alternative sentences for young people between 14 and 19 years of age gives young people the possibility of carrying out an alternative sentence in establishments such as, for example, in retirement homes or social housing companies. Community service (organized by a 1994 law) allows for community service or training as an alternative to detention.

The Rural Development Plan of the Walloon Region supports agricultural and forestry vocational training to enable farmers to acquire necessary skills (e.g. in the case of the project at the Saint-Hubert prison).

Various foundations such as the Levi Strauss&Co Foundation, the King Baudouin Foundation, and some private firms, support projects in the fight against exclusion.

The gardens

In 1994, the King Baudouin Foundation initiated the project « Nature has a right to a city » within the framework of the « Living Environment » program in order to develop nature in and around social housing projects. One of the conditions was the creation of a partnership bringing together the inhabitants, the housing companies, the municipalities, the environmental associations and the Neighborhood Associations. Or in the framework of the Quartier de Vie program.

At the level of the Walloon Region, the Rural Renovation subsidizes the creation and development of green spaces and plantations, or through the DG of Natural Resources and Environment.

In terms of social housing, it is interesting to look at the Société Wallonne du Logement, the Régies de Quartier and the Sociétés de logement de service public.

Numerous trainings and various trainings in horticulture, market gardening… exist, in particular via associations such as the CRABE (organic agriculture and market gardening) in Walloon Brabant and the Regional Centers of Initiation to the Environment.

It is possible to conclude leases with the SNCB to occupy land along the railroads, or with other private or public actors to occupy unused land.

1 Bauduin V. 2001, p.7

2 Project where market gardening is recognized as a tool for revitalization and socio-professional integration for disadvantaged people.

3 Matgen J-C. 2001, p.3

4 Although it may seem pejorative in French, the term (ex)-offender is, for the OED, the most appropriate to designate all persons who are judged guilty of a crime.

5 Robert F. 2000, pp.13-14.

6 FBD. 2001, p.20

7 The general mission of ASJs is to provide comprehensive social assistance to prisoners who request or accept it, in order to manage their detention as humanely as possible, and to prepare them for release and return to social life.


Symbioses, the magazine of the Réseau Idée

Bauduin V. 2001. Les jardins sociaux : du jardin ouvrier au jardin familial, Mémoire, ISI Huy-Gembloux

Harford A. 1998. La réinsertion professionnelle des (ex)délinquants en Europe et en Belgique, OED, January.

Sutton P. (coord.) 1994. Basic education in prisons, United Nations

Matgen J-C. 2001. « La criminalité n’est pas en hausse, la sévérité pénale si ", In La Libre Belgique, July 10

Robert F. 2000. «  The organization for the employment of offenders : a network for socio-professional integration ", In Alter Echos, n°81, September 11

FBD. 2001. «  Avanti à Charleroi : de l’aide aux justiciables au retour à l’emploi ", In Alter Echos, n°100, June 15

Decree of the French Community on social assistance to prisoners with a view to their social reintegration, passed on July 17, 2001 (Office of the Minister of Youth Assistance and Health of the French Community)

a("") Recommendation N R (89) 12] of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on education in prison adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on October 13, 1989

En savoir plus

Ligue des coins de terre

La ferme de la Vache of the CPAS of Liege

La Ferme du Hayon

La Prairie

Bibliothèque René Péchère (art and history of gardens)

a( Cellule Parcs et Jardins] of the province of Namur

a( CPAS of La Louvière]

CRABE - Cooperation, Research and Animation for the Eastern Walloon Brabant

Walloon Environment Portal

a("") FAFEP] - Federation of Associations for Training and Continuing Education in Prison (mission, among others, to promote and coordinate training activities in prisons)

a( Aide et reclassement], asbl, training operator

a( ADEPPI] - Atelier D’Éducation Permanente pour Personnes Incarcérées (training operator)

Document on the reintegration of or ex-prisoners in Belgium

a("") Rural Development Plan] of the Walloon region