Capital city — Brussels
Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabit…i2017/ Federal Public Service Justice
Type of government
Human Development Index
Homicide rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)i
Name of authority in charge of the pris…
Total number of prisonersi2017/ Federal Public Service Justice
Prison densityi2017/ Federal Public Service Justice
Total number of prison facilitiesi2017
An NPM has been established
Number and percentage of female prisone…i2017/ Federal Public Service Justice
Untried prisonersi2017/ Federal Public Service Justice
Death penalty is abolished
All prisoners are entitled to spend at least one hour a day in the open air
In penitentiaries, prisoners are allowed a minimum of one hour, and sometimes more, of yard time. Yards are comprised of a court surrounded by high walls (and sometimes with an added escape prevention net). Participate in an activity (classes, training, work) replaces access to the yard.
The prison service offers activities to prisoners
Activities are organised by external associations that depend on each correctional facility’s permission. Offerings are limited.
Prisoners with disciplinary sanctions are often prohibited from activities even if the offense is without evidence.
There are designated places for physical activities and sports
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.
Work is compulsory
Number and percentage of prisoners who work
Job opportunities in detention have gradually decreased. In 2014, 50% of prisoners were employed ; that number decreased to 36.6% in 2017. According to the prison administration, around 1,700 prisoners work in workshops, and 2,000 in their unit.
Work assignments are a means for management to reward a prisoner’s good behaviour. Taking it away thus becomes a frequent “punishment”.
Prisoners generally wait up to three months to be assigned work they didn’t choose.
Prisoner work is mainly carried out in three ways:
- prison Labour Board work (institution maintenance, fence making for the cell windows, etc) ;
- section work (cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc) ;
- external company work. Often the most lucrative. The work is done in workshops, and on exception, in cells.
Work in prisons does not follow labour law.
Maximum daily/weekly working hours are set, including at least one day of rest
The number of hours worked is arbitrary, with 45% of prisoners saying they were told to report to work just a few hours in advance.
Prisoners are paid for their work
significantly below the national minimum wage
The average pay is €1 an hour. Pay can go up to €3.
Pay varies based on the type of work done, the worker’s qualifications, and the number of hours worked at the prison. For house work, the minimum rate is:
- students, laborers or house workers: €0.62/hour;
- experienced or qualified workers: €0.69/hour;
- elite workers: €0.79/hour.
Wages for work done on behalf of private companies are a minimum of €1 per hour. Prisoners receive between €80-150 of monthly income for household work. In workshops, they can receive between €150-300. These wages are paltry compared to the inflated prices of the commissary products.
Prisoners are paid on a piecework basis
In 2017, prisoners in Brussels worked on making wooden bow ties. They were paid less than €1 a piece, with each selling for €40 on the market.
Their income is subject to social contributions
Prisoners do not benefit from social security, unemployment coverage, health insurance, pension, or retirement.
Health and safety standards applicable outside are respected in prison
Education and vocational training
The Belgian state never implemented the 12 January 2005 law related to planned detention. Thus, trainings are not part of a reintegration program. All trainings are organised by external associations. The prison administration does not directly employ teachers, trainers or cultural activity leaders. These areas are entirely entrusted to the linguistic communities in charge of education in Belgium.
Education is provided
in some establishments
Education is available for all prisoners
Eligibility criteria are set by prison staff, sometimes arbitrarily, in the form of a reward.
Prisoners are allowed to pass diplomas and entry examinations
Number and percentage of prisoners enrolled in vocational training
Vocational training is provided
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.
Vocational training is available for all prisoners
As of 1 January 2017, about 400 prisoners participated in qualifying vocational training.
Prisoners have access to computers
in some establishments
Work and training are often offered at the same time. Prisoners therefore prefer work as it provides wages. Available trainings depend on prisoners’ transfers from one prison to another.
Access to information
Prisoners have access to a television
Prisoners have access to television in their cells. Both the appliances and the cable subscription must be purchased at the commissary. Some institutions require prisoners to rent a television even if they already own one. The cost depends on each institution, but it can be as high as 20€ per month.
Prisoners have access to a radio
Prisoners have access to radio in their cells.
Prisoners have access to the press
The prison service allows access to Internet
Prisoners don’t have access to the internet. The three newest prisons of Beveren, Leuze, and Marche have a cell system called “Prison Cloud” that allows access to an internal network.
The Catholic, Protestant and Muslim religions are the most represented.
Prisoners are free to practice their religion and follow their beliefs
in most cases
Security reasons are often used to limit access. Muslim prisoners have suffered since the Charlie Hebdo attacks (2015).
There are chaplains in the prisons
varies depending on the religions
The presence of counsellors from the Foundation for the Moral Assistance of Prisoners varies heavily from institution to institution for geographic and organizational reasons.
The prison service remunerates the chaplains
Since 2007, prisoners have access to state-hired worship counsellors. They are small in number. Catholic chaplains receive the biggest subsidies.
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.
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.
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.
Authorisations for external actors to take part in prison activities are provided by
the prison governor
External support services to litigants are organised and distributed differently according to Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia.
Five general bilingual services are active in the three prisons of the city. There is additionally a general service, approved and subsidised by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.
There are also about 15 dedicated services (i.e addictions, education, socio-professional reintegration) that are active in the three prisons in Brussels.
The Flemish Community has 11 “Centrum Algemeen Welzijswerk (CAW)” which is the equivalent of social services. One person from the CAW is sent to each prison in Flanders and Brussels. The role of the CAW is similar to that of the general social services of the Common Community Commission (COCOM) and of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. There are 14 active support services in Wallonia for prisoners of the French Community. There are volunteer visitors in the prisons. Brussels has 35 visitors approved for Saint-Gilles, Forest and Berkendael.
The Association of French-speaking Visitors of the Prison of Belgium (L’Association des Visiteurs Francophones) is active in Wallonia. Its Dutch equivalent is active in Flanders.
Five general bilingual services have been approved and subsidised by the Brussels Community Commission.
Prisoners are allowed to make use of financial resources
Prisoners use an account to buy items from the commissary or to make phone calls. It is funded by the working salary of their next of kin or by half of their disability allowance received from the outside.
Financial resources are accessible
in an account
Destitute prisoners receive financial or in-kind support
Prisoners who do not receive any income in their account can make use of the commissary social support. They receive between five and ten euros per month in the prisons in Brussels. They must repay the sums paid by the commissary social support as soon as they receive money in their accounts from the outside world.
Commissary prices have increased by ten-percent. This serves to form mutual aid funds for prisoners without financial resources. In principle, destitute prisoners receive minimal aid in the form of telephone credits, tobacco and hygiene accessories (i.e. razors, soap, toilet paper, etc.).
At the prison of Saint-Gilles and for its beneficiary, this increase represents one euro of calling credit per week and five euros of commissary social support per month.
Expression of prisoners
Prisoners are allowed to discuss matters relating to their conditions of imprisonment
Written contact is subject to the general rules of correspondence. A direct interview with a journalist requires the authorisation of the Minister of Justice. No problematic cases of refusal are known to exist.
Prisoners have the right of association
Referent prisoners can be found in the consultation units of some institutions (Andenne, Ittre, Jamioulx). They address the complaints and requests of their fellow inmates to those in charge. Their role is that of mediator.
Prisoners have the right to vote
The longest prison sentences may be accompanied by a disqualification from voting. In practice, it is difficult for all detainees to have access to this right. They are often unaware of it.
Some prisoners present a radio broadcast in a few rare prisons (Lantin for example).