Admission and evaluation
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
Arbitration detention cases are often reported. They are linked to the clerks’ lack of training and to certain “gray areas” of the law’s preventive detention and execution of sentences (e.g. release scheduled for Friday but actually happens Monday morning, the Aliens Office seizing a released prisoner in order to put him in a closed administrative centre, double interned-condemned status, among others).
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
Each establishment has its internal regulations, which is, in principle, provided to the prisoner upon arrival. However, it is difficult to understand and is not always translated in the language of the recipient.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
Every prisoner is entitled to legal aid.
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
There is no expert legal advice. The establishments’ management is merely required to meet all incomers. At that time, useful information is provided.
Deaths in custody are logged in a register
Most deaths in prison are from natural causes, but overdose-related deaths are very common. The Bruges and Saint-Gilles prisons record the number of the most important deaths each year. The administration explains this report partly through the presence of a medical-surgical centre in these two prisons. The more seriously injured inmates are sent here to receive care.
Number of deaths in custody
Number of deaths attributed to suicide
Thirteen people committed suicide in prison in 2017.Three of them were in pre-trial detention, seven sentenced, and three psychiatric internees.
Variation in the number of suicides
There have been 262 suicides over the past 16 years. This represents, on average, one prison death out of three. A study published by Ghent University records a suicide rate eight times higher than that of the general population[^1]. Almost 20% of suicides take place during the first month of incarceration. Suicide cases are often related to strict security policy. [^1]: L. Favril, V. Vander Laenen, K. Audenaert, “Suicidal Behaviour Among Inmates in Flanders : Prevalence and Correlation with Psychological Distress”, University of Ghent, 2017 (in Flemish).
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
Suspicious deaths are common, but related figures are not published. Relatives rarely bring legal proceedings against the administration because of the lack of information, lack of financial resources and intimidation of public administration.
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
Men aged between 25 and 40 are the community most likely to be suicidal. The causes are often linked to upheavals caused by their detention: waiting for judgement, being placed in solitary confinement or being transferred from one facility to another. Added to this are people with higher qualifications. People in relationships or with children are also affected by suicide.
A potentially suicidal inmate was sent back to Lantin Prison in October 2017, wearing clothes designed to prevent these risks. However, he tore these garments up and remained naked for days in both his cell and during his outdoor time in a small courtyard.
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
yes, in 1991
Physical and psychological violence is commonplace in prison. It can take different forms. Staff violence is rarely denounced as being openly physical. It most often seems to consist of different daily humiliations. For example, searches, especially body searches, are particularly delicate moments and convenient for stripping. Sexual abuse is rarely denounced in prison for reasons such as shame or fear of reprisal.
The inmates report facts about individual and collective physical violence to the Prison Supervisory Board. Sanctions have been reported following filed complaints. Prisoners sometimes encounter difficulties when denouncing abuse. They rarely know the guards’ names. The guards habitually hide their I.D. badges under their epaulets. The Badge Wearing Circular was amended in September 2017 to reiterate its mandatory badge wearing. However, it is still largely ignored.
Cases involving Lantin Polyclinic staff against particularly vulnerable inmates have been reported.
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
Institutional management is usually aware of which staff members use violence against inmates. They are not punished (or are punished belatedly) for fear of strikes. Most often, the guards are transferred to another wing of the prison or even transferred to another institution.
Incidents between inmates often occur, but are rarely denounced out of fear of retaliation. These incidents are difficult to quantify. Violence between inmates is reported in every establishment. The aggression shown by some, combined with detention in a closed space under an authoritarian system, just invites violence[^1]. [^1] : To find out more, check out the 2016 International Prison Observation notice – Belgium section, pages 147-150.
In September 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Belgium for the death of a man detained in Jamioulx Prison (Tekin v. Belgium judgment). Mr. Tekin passed away on August 8th, 2009 during a violent lock-up. The guards grabbed him by the neck and brought him to the ground with an arm wrench. They shackled his ankles and wrists, and carried him away by the shoulders with his head hanging down. Upon arrival in his cell, they noticed that Mr. Tekin’s face had turned blue. On arrival, the medical team pronounced him dead. Even though he suffered from mental disorders, he was put in a regular wing of Jamioulx prison.
Since 2005, a specific legal procedure allows prisoners to file complaints. Nevertheless, it is not always implemented. The circulars are neither communicated to prisoners nor published.
Prisoners may make an appeal before the Council of State (CE) against the disciplinary decisions which concern them. The CE controls the legality of the decision without assessing the facts. Prisoners can also refer to the Urgent Applications Judge of the court of first instance, with regard to their conditions of detention. These procedures of the common law are not adapted to the specificities of the prison world.
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
An NPM has been established
The Civil Society invites the State to ratify this instrument. The government, parliament, and administration each suggest that this responsibility rests elsewhere.
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT)
Its reports are made public
(last report published in 2018)
The Supervisory Commission is an independent body and has a duty to control the institution, to write an annual report, to provide recommendations, and to mediate between the administration and the prisoners. In principle, this Commission is established in each prison, but this is not always the case. The number of police superintendents is often deemed insufficient.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
The granting of a sentence adjustment falls within the jurisdiction of the court for the enforcement of sentences.
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Probation and electronic surveillance, as an alternative to prison confinement, went into effect in 2014 and 2016. These new penalties apply mainly to offences that are unlikely to lead to prison. They are used more as an extension of the criminal net rather than as an alternative to detention.
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
Prisoners who are sentenced to a penalty of less than three years are automatically released at a third of their sentence (except foreigners with illegal residence, sex offenders targeting minors and those sentenced for terrorism).
Those who are convicted to a sentence greater than three years may benefit from early release pronounced by the Sentence Enforcement Court. They can claim it after a third of their sentence.
The provision is a supplementary penalty of five to 15 years of imprisonment, pronounced at the end of the execution of the main sentence. It is dictated by the Sentence Enforcement Court against those considered to be “dangerous” and recidivists.
A psychosocial service, attached to the administration, is available in each facility. It is composed of psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Their main task is to render opinions concerning the sentence adjustment to the competent authorities.
Conditional release, at a figure of 736, was in 2016, less than the number of releases granted at the end of a sentence, which was at 832 (latest figures published).
In 2017, the Constitutional Court and the Sentence Enforcement Court of Brussels, removed the threshold of two-thirds applied to repeat offenders.