Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
on an irregular basis
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
As of January 1st, 2017, the prison population was at 10,123 people (an 8.3% drop when compared to the same time period in 2016).
The prison population as of January 1st, 2017 consisted of 55.9% convicts, 35.7% untried prisoners, and 8.4% psychiatric internees.
Between 1980 and 2014, the number of prisoners increased, going from 5,677 prisoners to 11,769. A downward trend in the prison population has been observed since. The number of untried prisoners has remained relatively stable. The internee and convict populations have decreased the most significantly over the past five years. This development results from the fact that the prison administration subtracts the people placed in new legal psychiatric facilities in Flanders from the population of internees. This development reduces the sentences of people sentenced to less than three years.
The annual average occupancy rate was around 112%, but surpassed 114% from December 2016 to July 2017, with a peak of 117% in the month of May.
Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities
yes, remand prisons
They fully welcome persons in pre-trial detention and short sentences.
As of 2010, Belgium rented 650 spaces in the Tilburg prison in the Netherlands for 30 million Euros per year (the contract ended in 2016). The prisoners of Wortel prison were transferred to these facilities; this project ended up being a failure. In 2012 the CPT denouced the violent climate of Tilburg Prison, where the maintaining of family ties and the reintegration of prisoners were undermined. Some French-speaking or Arab-speaking prisoners were isolated in an environment almost exclusively Dutch.
Name of authority in charge of the prison service
Ministry of Justice
The official name of the prison administration is the General Directorate of Penitentiary Institutions (DGEPI).
Budget of the prison service
542 millions euro
The Court of Auditors released a report in October 2017 on the particular to the accounting of prisons. It noted that “the internal control of prisons is insufficient” to the point where it is not possible to “differentiate if an item was stolen, lost or simply removed for its intended use.”
Percentage of the ministerial budget allocated to the prison service
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
The prison administration is part of a federal public service (FPS). The territorial distribution is in line with the linguistic separation of the country; in the North Dutch and south, French. Prisoners are spread according to their language.
The division of competences between the federal state and the federated entities is a source of confusion.
Three regimes, generally divided into different wings in the same prison, are applied to prisoners:
- The open regime: prisoners can move freely inside the prison (Hoogstraten, Ruiselede, Saint-Hubert and Wortel).
- The closed regime: prisoners must stay in cells. They can exit on different occasions (visiting room, work, activities). The majority of institutions apply this regime.
- The semi-open regime: it is a hybrid of the two preceding regimes (Marneffe and Merksplas).
Open and semi-open regimes are often considered a luxury granted to the prisoners, which the prison administration can withdraw at any moment.
Prisons are divided into two categories: prisons for untried prisoners (pretrial) and prisons for convicted prisoners; however, most prisons detain both.
The Ministry of Justice accounts for a total of 34 prisons: two in Brussels, 16 in Flanders and 16 in Wallonia. Our count shows 38 prisons1:
- 34 prisons for men – including:
- Eight women’s units within men’s facilities.
- Two with special sections for youth detention (Tongres and Saint-Hubert)
- One prison for women (Berkendael Prison)
- One social defence institution (EDS) in Paifve
- Two centres of forensic psychiatry in Ghent and Antwerp
The number of prisons can vary depending on classification criteria. The Forest-Berkendael prison, in Brussels, can be counted as two institutions if we consider that Berkendael has an independent entrance. These two institutions and the Saint-Gilles one, located in Brussels, have recently been under the same management. ↩
Total number of prison facilities
In October 2016, Saint-Gilles Prison, in Brussels, became a facility for untried prisoners and Forest Prison a facility for convicted ones.
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
The prison administration declares 9,687 cells (2016).
The smallest prison in Tongres has 25 cells and on average 21 people (Figure from 2016). The biggest prison in Lantin has 694 cells for an average of 905 prisoners during the same year (latest figures published).
The older prisons are mainly located in the centre of cities. The new ones, built in the nineties, are located either on the outskirts of cities or in rural areas. Access is more difficult for staff, visitors, families and lawyers.
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
The construction of these prisons comes from several periods:
- Eighteen prisons date from the eighteenth century
- Twelve from the twentieth century
- Five were constructed in the 2000s
- Two Forensic Centres date back to the 1850s and 1950s
Since 2008, prison facilities have been subject to consecutive masterplans (renovating existing structures and building new prisons). The Penitentiary Administration states the aim is to build a more humane prison system. Nevertheless, this is not the perception of prisoners: although they agree that comfort and hygiene are taken into account, they consider that infrastructures are cold and the surveillance is ubiquitous. These new institutions built in public-private partnership (PPP) present contemporary infrastructures, separate toilet-shower block and computers and telephones in each cell. They are presented as a solution to the endemic overpopulation. In October 2017 the prison of Leuze in Hainaut, opened in 2014 and under full capacity since 2015, states an occupation rate of 110%.
The biggest project underway is a mega prison in Haren to the north of Brussels. This institution could count up to 1,190 cells, however, its origins are particularly troubled. No document clearly attests to the choice to build such an institution and even less is given about the reasons to build such a facility. The successive governments confirmed their obligation to build the mega-prison following a political agreement from 2008; this agreement cannot be verified This project would be done in PPP through a consortium of companies. This consortium would build the walls and maintain them for 25 years. The cost of the project is estimated by the associations at three billion euros over 25 years.
A parliamentary motion on the funding of this institution through a PPP, tabled in 2016, has still not been considered in the justice commission of the Parliament.
For more information, consult the report « Mega-prison of Brussels – Genesis of a crime », published in October 2017.
Variation in the number of prison guard positions
(6,337 full-time equivalents)
Guard to prisoner ratio
1 : 1.6
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
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.
Public Statement of the CPT on Belgium, CPT / Inf (2017), 18 of 13 July 2017. ↩
Details of the training are as follows:
- The training of prison officers lasts 13 weeks and is composed of theoretical courses and field courses
- Training is provided at the Training Centre for Prison Staff in Marneffe
- No diploma is required to start the training
- You must be at least 20 years old and of Belgian nationality
- Trainees are sometimes placed in a professional situation prior to completion of the training to compensate for the lack of staff.