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Required conditions for conjugal visits

family tie

The law allows for visits outside monitoring (VHS). These are not conjugal visits as such. These visits are not only intended for spouses. Any family member can benefit from it. There is no discrimination between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

  • In 2017, 1,145 visits outside monitoring were made in the prison of Saint-Gilles.

Prisoners with psychiatric disorders are overrepresented in prisons. The lack of professional mental health care is critical. Requests for external support to manage psychiatric pathologies can, in some cases, require a one to two year wait time.

  • In July 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) condemned Belgium for not fulfilling its duty to provide psychiatric care. Belgium was supposed to provide care in German for a German-speaking prisoner. German is one of the official languages of the kingdom.


  • In July 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) notes the insufficiency and vagueness of the legal and administrative framework, which provides for the use of coercive measures. The CEDH relays the concerns of on lookers from all over the world. The European Court then denounces the gaps in the prison guards’ training, pointing out that one guard had no training concerning mentally ill people. It adds that even though Michaël Tekin’s mental state was known to the authorities and had led to his committal, his cell was in one of the regular wings of the Prison. The court once again notes the structural problem of Belgian prisons where psychiatric internees are placed in regular regimes. (See “Health”)

Psychiatric internees (prisoners not guilty by reason of insanity) are held, in principle, at a specialized institution. There are five: in Ghent, Antwerp, Paifve, Mons and Tournai. (See “Premises”). They are divided in three categories:

  • Social defence institutions (EDS): There is only one, in Paifve, reserved exclusively for psychiatric internees. It is under the control of the prison administration.
  • Civil hospitals: Mons and Tournai. They have a section for psychiatric internees. The institution is managed entirely by the Ministry of Health. Patients usually wait from two to four years in the psychiatric wards of prisons without adequate care before transfer to one of the two civil hospitals.
  • Institutions of forensic psychiatry: Ghent and Antwerp. This type of institution only admits psychiatric internees. The SPF Justice is in charge of security and infrastructure; the Ministry of Health manages health care.

Three new institutions of forensic psychiatry were announced in Alost, Wavre, Paifve. No timeline is set.

  • Prolonged waiting time to be placed in a civilian hospital is denounced by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe. Belgium was condemned in September 2016 by the European Court of Human Rights in the pilot Judgment W.D. v. Belgium.

    The CPT pointed out in a public statement on 13 July 2017 the particular situation of psychiatric internees during social movements. They appear even more vulnerable than other prisoners (See “Staff”).

In such cases, security measures are implemented. This often delays access to care.

  • In 2017, 40% of medical extractions done at the St-Gilles prison were delayed.

Visits are frequently cancelled when there is not enough staff.

  • In 2017 the prison of Saint-Gilles saw a 65% workload increase without the addition of more staff.

Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives

yes, with special requirements provided

The Association Relais Enfants-Parents supervises visits of children to their parent prisoner in several institutions. The number of affected children is estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000. In 2015, more than 1,600 children have benefited from the support of the association.

  • In 2018, its budget, allocated to the discussions in order to prepare these family meetings, is in danger of suffering a decrease of 90%.

Individuals or organisations from the outside are allowed to participate in prison activities


To this day, CAAP doesn’t have an equivalent in Flanders. In Flanders as well as the Dutch-speaking area of Brussels, the “Red Anthracite” provides sport and socio-cultural activities.

  • yes

    Since 2009, Wallonia and Brussels have expressed a desire to optimize and coordinate external services with prisons. The Organization for Active Associations in Prisons (CAAP) is the official representative for organizations associated with Wallonia-Brussels Federation prisons. In July 2017, CAAP had 51 association members.


  • In 2017, several prisoners from the Ittre prison who were deprived from access to worship chose to pray together in the courtyard. They received disciplinary punishment. In a June 2017 judgment, the State Council suspended a disciplinary sanction imposed by Leuze-en-Hainaut management in response to collective prayers. The Council determined that collective prayer was not a disciplinary infraction.

Vocational training is available for all prisoners

  • -

    As of 1 January 2017, about 400 prisoners participated in qualifying vocational training.

Vocational training is provided


  • yes

    In January 2016, the Marche-en-Famenne prison experimented with a new “validation of prisoner skills” project in francophone Belgium. The goal was to support socio-professional reintegration: a prisoner that acquired professional skills while in detention could leverage them to obtain exemptions in the context of continued training. The results of this experience were positive. Throughout 2017, the project was expanded to other correctional facilities and especially in Brussels.

Prisoners are paid on a piecework basis


The activities offered by the correctional facilities can be grouped in different categories:

  • Culture and sports (arts, cinema, writing, reading, music, gardening, individual and group sport, theatre).
  • Training and learning (professional and general training, information and orientation, IT, languages, driver’s licence, first aid).
  • Post-prison (assistance with a professional project, information session, reintegration platform).
  • Psychosocial (activities for both children and parents, parole group, hotlines, volunteer visitors, psychological support, social follow-up).
  • Health (group activities, addiction treatment, information sessions, prevention).

There is no clear number of prisoners that participate in these activities. In practice, the number should be random and dependent upon a multitude of factors (number of agents present, visits, the yard, prison movements, etc.).

  • CAAP published a report[^CAAP] on services offered in Brussels and Wallonia’s correctional facilities. They found that most of the 2017 findings were identical to those of 2013. To this day, CAAP doesn’t have an equivalent in Flanders. In Flanders as well as the Dutch-speaking area of Brussels, the “Red Anthracite” provides sport and socio-cultural activities. [^CAAP]: For more information on the published report, visit the CAAP’s site

    Some innovative initiatives are taking place. In 2016, the Criminology faculty at the Catholic University of Louvain collaborated with a theatre group to create a show with students and Andenne prisoners. The project was renewed in 2017. Multiple shows took place inside the prison rather than outside. The initiative is projected to extend to other institutions.

Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment

  • yes

    In 2016 an appeal before the State Council was introduced, following a collective protest in the prison of Saint-Gilles. All prisoners, without differentiation, were punished. The punishments were suspended. The reason for this protest was that prisoners were unable to access collective activities such as teaching, sports, the library and socio-cultural activities for several months due to budget cuts.

The prison service provides food that respects special dietary needs


Medical diets and cultural or religious practices are taken into consideration during mealtimes. It is, however, not always respected. Halal meat is not served. It is usually replaced with cheese, always the same kind, served week after week to Muslim prisoners.

Diabetic prisoners frequently have to insist on receiving a modified diet.

A vegetarian diet is temporarily available at Gand prison. Generally, the only alternative for vegetarian prisoners is replacing meat with cheese.

  • yes

    In 2017, signs placed on Huy’s prison cell doors showed the occupants’ diet. They included the words “Muslim” and “normal.”

Prisoners are accommodated in single cells

in some establishments

The principle of individual cells is not respected. Detained individuals, particularly those in pre-trial imprisonment, are often kept two or three to a 9 m2 cell.

Sentence homes (for convicts) respect, in principle, individual confinement.

This results in difficulties in the management of each prisoner’s personal belongings. This modality gives time to detainees and space to the persons concerned but remains incompatible with training or employment. This measure does not exist in the law. There is a risk of a method of execution of the sentence, granted by the Minister, without parliamentary or judicial control.

  • Belgium has been reprimanded on many occasions for holding multiple prisoners in one area, reducing the minimal individual space by 4 m2 (See Country Profile 2016).

    On the 16 May 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Belgium guilty in the case of Sylla and Nollomont v. Belgium. The Court determined that Belgium violated article 3 due to a lack of personal space (less than 3 m2 for each prisoner) as well as not providing activities outside of the cells. In June 2017, the Ministry of Justice began a cell sharing system as a new way to reduce the prison population. Every other week, two prisoners alternately occupy the same cell. The prisoner not in the cell takes prison leave. Around 3,000 prisoners are involved in this system.

They require a higher demand in care. No area is specifically reserved for them. Spaces, including beds, showers and courts, are not designed for wheelchair access. The food is not adapted for toothless people.

The prison directions are mandated to take appropriate measures for each case, depending on the needs of the elderly person. The medical team, most often overworked, cannot appropriately respond to their specific needs. Measures are taken usually only when the patient’s condition is deteriorating.

  • Adequate and timely support is rare. The OIP-SB reported in 2017 on a prisoner over 90 years old who was taken to the Medical-Surgical Centre (CMC) of the Saint-Gilles prison in order to benefit from adapted care and better treatment. He was then quickly transferred to a nursing home.

Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care


  • The International Prison Observatory – Belgian section (OIP-SB) - points to the example of the male born person who stopped transition treatment, finding the process too difficult in confinement conditions. She is only authorized to wear female clothes inside the cell.


  • 50-year-old Van Den Bleeken has been carrying out a life sentence since 1989. In 2014, he asked to receive assisted suicide. His request was approved, but the doctors refused, shortly before the act was implemented. The prisoner was eventually transferred to the Ghent psychiatric prison. His case highlights the deficiencies in the management of mental disorders in Belgian prisons.

    Fifteen other prisoners had previously asked for assisted suicide. One inmate in Belgium succeeded in getting euthanized. His request was processed due to his illness’s terminal phase.


  • The Constitutional Court cancelled, on 21 December 2017, the provisions of a law from 5 February 2016 stipulating that foreigners staying illegally could no longer benefit from adjustments of sentence and could only be transfer to the Office of Foreigners for their removal.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to remain in the country after having served their sentence


The Belgian authorities can withdraw the residence permit from a foreign national prisoner serving their sentence in Belgium and declare a ban from the territory (sometimes called banishment or double punishment).

A law from February 2017, presented as part of the fight against terrorism, now authorizes the visa removal of any foreign national prisoners for reasons of public order or national security. Long-term residents may, even if born in Belgium, lose their right of residence for minor and / or very old offences.

  • For example, a young man in his twenties was sentenced in 2017 to several months of prison for driving without a licence. He grew up in Anderlecht and recently became a father. All of his family lives in Belgium. He received the order to leave the territory for Morocco, where he has never lived. The case of a Turkish foreign national prisoner accused of belonging to a terrorist organization in 2017 is reported by an association. He was quickly extradited to Germany in the application of a European arrest warrant.

Convicted minors are grouped into several categories: juveniles who are divested of their right to be judged as children and are transfer to the adult criminal system (“dessaisis”), juveniles protected by virtue of their youth, and unaccompanied foreign minors (UFMs). Foreign unaccompanied juveniles that are accused of committing infractions are subjected to bone testing to determine their age. The reliability of these tests and their interpretation are disputed.

“Dessaissis” juveniles are minors 16 years old or above who are tried as adults by a judge in the juvenile court because the judge considers it appropriate.

  • The United Nations Children’s Rights Committee says that this measure goes against their rights. The Francophone Minister’s preliminary draft decree for Youth Assistance proposes to limit its use (the preliminary draft was approved by the government in January 2018 and must be voted upon in Parliament).

Berkendael, Lantin and Bruges prisons have cells especially designed to accommodate mothers and infants. When these cells are all in use, additional mothers and children occupy regular cells, temporarily equipped for this situation. Sometimes they have to share this with another mother and child.

  • This situation is common in the Berkendael prison, which only has two nurseries provisioned for two children. In 2017, this prison accommodated five babies simultaneously. Lantin prison has four bedroom-nurseries and they are rarely all in use.

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until 3 years old

Children born in prison can be left in their mother’s care until the age of three. Most are under one year old. Once the child reaches the age limit, they are sent to live with a family member or are placed in a foster home or an institution. The maintenance of family ties depends on the contact method authorised by the prison as well as the possibility that the children can visit their mother in prison. Volunteers with the Red Cross roaming service ensure their visitation by accompanying the children from their home to the prison. Family visits are organised by the Children-Parents Relay in Brussels and in Wallonia.

  • In January 2017, ten children were in prison with their mother.

Childbirth takes place in

  • outside care facilities
  • the penitentiary establishment

The women are generally sent to the hospital in the case of an emergency.

  • In Berkendael prison in Brussels, prisoners have been able to give birth in a civilian hospital since January 2017.

The places where women prisoners are held are of several kinds:

  • penal institutions exclusively for women (1)
  • units exclusively for women (8)

The women are accommodated in special sections of the eight establishments for men. Berkendael Prison in Brussels is the only institution to house only females.

The female sections usually run more smoothly than those for men. They have a more open detention regime. Meals, for example, are communal.

  • The last section for women opened in 2016 in Hoogstraten Prison.

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.

  • yes

    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.

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.

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.

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 prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)


No minimum service is provided in the event of a strike. The police services, and in some cases the army, are solicited to ensure the safety and service of the prisoners. They are not trained for the requirements of the prison system. Numerous cases of verbal and physical violence against prisoners are recorded on these occasions. Several courts of first instance and the Court of Appeal of Brussels ordered the Belgian State to set up a minimum service as proposed by the CPT. A draft bill has been under review since the end of 2017. The bill does not offer assurances as precisely as those requested by the CPT.

  • -

    There was no strike in 2017 as there was in 2016. However, shifts in mood are regular. Agents hold zealous strikes for a few days, and multiple activities are cancelled without notice (especially in the Ittre prison on Christmas Eve in 2017).

    A major strike of French-speaking prison staff took place from the end of April to June 2016. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) travelled to Belgium during this period. They observed, in their report published in July 2017: “The authorities had to call on the armed forces to make up for the lack of personnel. The violations of rights to which this situation gave rise are numerous: quasi-permanent confinement of prisoners in cells under conditions considered already intolerable, major disturbances in the distribution of their meals, strong degradation of their personal hygiene conditions and cell hygiene conditions, frequent cancellation of daily walks, serious restrictions on their access to health care and near-disruption of their contact with the outside world (including with lawyers)” 1.