Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

the prison administration

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


Belgium has a high security facility located at the Bruges prison, with a 10-person capacity.

This facility is for prisoners deemed particularly violent by officers, or who present a very high escape risk. Central authority is responsible for assignment. The high-security area operates in complete autonomy. Everything is subject to authorisation, from having a pen or cutlery in a cell to participating in an activity with another prisoner. Prisoners there have a standardised diet that is extremely strict and supervised.

Two autonomous, 20-person sections have been installed in the prisons of Hasselt and Ittre, to accommodate the most “radicalised” prisoners. These sections are called D-RAD: EX. Only certain prisoners have access to an activity, subject to management approval. Working is drastically limited, as are visits and phone access.

In Ittre, this section has a tiny yard with wire fencing, and no associated “deradicalisation” program. In Hasselt, detainees have access to the regular yard and can be visited by a “disengagement” specialist.

  • The criminal court of Brussels has mandated the Belgian government to pay a symbolic amount of one euro per detention day to alleged jihadist prisoners who are placed in special isolation sections called “D-Radex», in Ittre and Hasselt prisons. The Belgian government believes that this measure falls within common law. Nevertheless, the court classifies it under a special individual security scheme ( régime de sécurité particulier individuel (RSPI). The RSPI scheme, as provided by the law, is associated with several legislative guarantees (Article 1382 of the Civil Code). Placement in the “D-Radex” section without the application of these guarantees, is an error on the part of the Belgian government. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Nicolas Cohen, reiterates the importance of individual monitoring of prisoners and the guarantee of their right to appeal as provided by the law.

    Read the full article of May 14 2019. (in French).

    / Belgian Francophone Radio Television

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness


Inmates deemed dangerous are identified on a list that the administration does not make public. The inmates concerned have no access to their classification files and cannot challenge the decision. The transfers linked to their classification jeopardise any detention and reintegration plans.

The body search consists of being stripped naked, with an inspection of the body cavities by a prison officer.

At the Nivelles prison, prisoners deemed to be “radicalised” are body-searched after each visit. This practice is humiliating for prisoners, but they rarely make a formal complaint.

In 2014, the Constitutional Court prohibited systematic searches that aren’t justified on specific, individual grounds. Many abusive searches are still carried out.

The Federal Ombudsman announced the publication of a report on prison searches for 2018.

In regards to the means of restraint, the ECHR noted in 2017, in Tekin v. Belgium, the inadequacy and imprecision of the legal and administrative framework providing for the use of coercive measures. It shares the concerns of international observers.

Security staff carry

non-lethal weapons

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


The intervention teams have shields, batons, handcuffs and sometimes pepper spray.

Number of escapes


Four people escaped while being brought to the hospital or the courthouse.


In some prisons, collective protest movements occur. These often take the form of a refusal to return from the prison yard to the cell.

Escape is not penalised, only the offences potentially committed during the event (threats, violence, destruction, etc.). Failure to return to the facility after leave is counted as an escape.

Sanctions include solitary confinement and the punishment block.
The most widely used disciplinary sanction is solitary confinement (1 to 30 days maximum). The most severe penalty is confinement to a punishment cell (“cachot”) for a period of 14 days.

The establishment director makes the decision on whether to issue a punishment.

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


Prisoners can make an appeal to the Council of State (CE) against disciplinary decisions which concern them. The CE reviews the legality of the decision, without assessing the facts. Prisoners can also appeal to the interim judge in the court of first instance, regarding the conditions of detention in these places.
These common law procedures are not designed specifically for the prison system.

Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


Several heads of establishment use systematic collective punishment after protest movements, even peaceful ones.
Starting in 2017, the administration demonstrated a real willingness to individualise punishments. Officers are asked to identify leaders within collective movements such as refusals to return to cells after the yard. It would seem that, in most cases, this effort is enforced in the Brussels prisons.

Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection
  • security

Solitary confinement is decided

the prison governor

The prison’s managing director makes the decision about placement in solitary confinement, in the event of an enhanced security regime

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited


Placement in solitary confinement is limited to 30 days for the general regime.
Prisoners under an enhanced security regime are de facto placed in solitary confinement, for a maximum of two months.

Solitary confinement can be extended


The administration director can renew solitary confinement indefinitely in the enhanced security regime. Some prisoners spend several years in solitary confinement.

Prisoners in solitary confinement receive regular medical care


People placed in an enhanced security regime very rarely receive medical or psychological support.

Prisoners placed in solitary confinement have access to an individual courtyard that is small and dark (12 square meters) and covered with wire netting.

They cannot partake in collective activities.

The prisoner placed in solitary confinement is allowed a weekly visit from relatives. A system of separation is used during this visit (room with a two-way communication device).

The punishment cells are not always located in a separate area. These are generally 9m2 cells equipped exclusively with a raised concrete partition and a foam mattress. The same bottle of water is used for drinking and washing. The metal toilets do not have a seat. The toilet flush is activated from the outside.