Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

the penitentiary administration

Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


Belgium has a high security district of ten rooms at the prison of Bruges. This district operates in complete autonomy. The assignation is decided on by the central administration. Prisoners that are particularly violent against officers or who present a strong risk of escape are placed in this section. Everything, from possessing a pen or cutlery in a cell to participating in activities with a cellmate, is subject to authorisation. This process officially aims to standardise detention. The prisoners are, in fact, subject to a monitored and extremely strict standardised regime.

Two autonomous sections of 20 rooms are developed in the prisons of Hasselt and Ittre to accommodate the most“ radicalised“ prisoners. These sections are called D-RAD:EX. Only some prisoners, with the decision of the directorate, have access to work. The work there is drastically limited just like visits and telephone access. In Ittre, the courtyard is tiny and caged. No programme of “deradicalisation” is present there. In Hasselt, prisoners have access to the ordinary courtyard and may receive visits from a “disengagement” specialist.

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness


Prisoners deemed dangerous are identified on a list that the administration keeps confidential. These prisoners don’t have access to the folder that led to this classification and are not able to challenge information contained therein. Regular transfers jeopardise any detention and reintegration plans.

Prisoners that the administration considers “radicalised” are subjected to a body search after each visit to the prison of Nivelles. Most of the time, the prisoners, humiliated by this practice, don’t complain to anyone.

In 2014, the Constitutional Court made a decision prohibiting systematic and unwarranted searches performed for specific individual reasons. Many abusive searches are still practised. Since the beginning of 2016, the Federal Ombudsman has worked on the searches in prison, but the report is not expected until 2018.

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods


A body search consists of a prison officer observantly inspecting body cavities.

The European Court of Human Rights, in its judgment, found that the legal and administrative framework for the use of coercive measures is insufficient and imprecise. It relays the concerns of international observers.

Security staff carry

non-lethal weapons

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


Prison officers are not armed. Security teams have shields, batons, handcuffs and sometimes pepper spray.

Some prisoners are aware of the collective discontent protests. They often express themselves by refusing to return to their cells after they come from the courtyard.

Jailbreak is not criminally sanctioned: only offences that are possibly committed with this opportunity can be punished (i.e. threats, violence, destruction, etc.). Non-reintegration into prison after getting permission for leave or holidays are counted as jailbreak.

The most common disciplinary punishment is being placed in isolation (from one to 30 days maximum). The prisoner is deprived of collective activities, receiving visits behind a separating screen, and is only allowed to see family once a week. They go out in an individual courtyard (which is a small dark room of 12 square meters, caged on top). The most severe punishment is being put in the dungeon (disciplinary cell) for a period of 14 days. The dungeons are located in a separate section. The cell’s size is usually 9 m2. The bed is made of a block of concrete and the mattress of foam. The cell does not have a table, chair, sink, television or radio. There is only one bottle of water that is used for drinking and for washing. The water closet, which is made of metal, does not have a toilet seat. The toilet is flushed from the outside.

The headteacher decides on the imposition of a sanction.

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


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.

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.

Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection
  • security

Solitary confinement is decided

the prison governor

The Director General of the Prison Administration decide of the placement of prisoners in solitary confinement in the event of an increased security regime

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited

yes, from 1 to 30 days maximum

In the case of solitary confinement in the case of a reinforced security regime, the maximum duration is two months.

Some prisoners are put in a specific security regime. It consists of being placed in isolation for a period of two months, which is indefinitely renewable. The General Director of the prison administration decides on how it is applied.

Solitary confinement can be extended

yes, indefinitely for the case of a reinforced security regime

Some spend several years in reclusion.

Prisoners in solitary confinement receive regular medical care


The prisoners hardly ever benefit from specific medical and psychological guidance during such periods of isolation.

Inmates come out in an individual courtyard (a small, dark, 12-square-metre room with a wire mesh on top).

The detained person placed in isolation shall be deprived of any collective activity.

The detained person is visited behind a separation glass and can only join his or her family once a week.