Capital city — Brussels
Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabit…i
Type of government
Human Development Index
Homicide rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)i
Name of authority in charge of the pris…
Total number of prisonersi
Average length of imprisonment (in mont…i
Total number of prison facilitiesi
An NPM has been established
Number and percentage of female prisone…
Death penalty is abolishediit had not been applied since 1950
Admission and evaluation
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
There are some isolated cases of arbitrary detention, resulting from insufficient training of clerks as well as legal “gray zones” relating to preventative custody and sentence execution (eg. release ordered for Friday takes place on Monday morning; Immigration Office intervenes and places a released inmate in a closed administrative center; inmate/convict double status).
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
Each prison has internal regulations which, in theory, are communicated to every inmate on their arrival. However, the regulations are often difficult to read, and not always translated into the inmate’s language.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
All inmates have the right to legal aid.
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
There is no legal advice service. The prison management is required to meet with all inmates on arrival, and any useful information is communicated to them at this time.
Deaths in custody are logged in a register
Number of deaths in custody
The leading cause of death is ‘natural causes’. There are frequent deaths by overdose.
The prisons in Bruges and Saint-Gilles record the highest number of deaths each year. The administration attributes this partially to the presence of a medical and surgical centre (CMC) in these two prisons, where the most seriously ill prisoners are sent for medical care.
Variation in the number of deaths in custody
decreased by 17%
53 deaths are recorded for the year 2016.
Number of deaths attributed to suicide
In 2017, thirteen people committed suicide in prison. Three of them were in pre-trial detention, seven were sentenced, and three were psychiatric inmates.
The population most affected by suicide is men aged 25 to 40. The causes are often attributed to upheavals in detention circumstances: pending trial, placement in solitary confinement or transfer from one establishment to another. Suicides have also occurred among people with higher education, individuals in a relationship, and those who are parents.
Variation in the number of suicides
increased by 8.3%
In 2016, twelve deaths were attributed to suicide. The administration has recorded 262 suicides over the last 16 years. These suicides represent, on average, one in three deaths. A study published by the Ghent University records a suicide rate eight times greater than that of the general population[^ 1]. Almost 20% of suicides take place during the first month of incarceration.
[^ 1]: L. Favril, V. Vander Laenen, K. Audenaert, “Suicidal behaviour among prisoners in Flanders: prevalence and correlation with psychological distress”, University of Ghent, 2017 (in Flemish).
Death rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
National suicide rate (per 10,000 inhabitants)
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
Suspicious deaths are a frequent occurrence. Figures for these deaths are not published. The deceased’s loved ones rarely take legal action against the prison administration.
Allegations of violence and ill-treatment have been reported during the year.
The warden and guards at Forest prison were on trial for physical and psychological violence committed against prisoners in 2014 and 2015, according to the Belga press agency. The accused were appealing an initial guilty verdict. The new judge set harsher sentences than the first judge, calling for two- and twenty-month suspended prison sentences for the accused.
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
yes, in 1991
Physical and psychological violence are endemic in prisons, and may take various forms. Violence inflicted by staff is rarely overtly physical, but manifested in daily frustrations. Searches, especially body searches, are particularly sensitive moments which often lead to incidents. Prisoners can report individual or collective acts of physical violence to the prison’s Supervisory Board. After a complaint has been filed, the perpetrator(s) may be punished. However, it is sometimes difficult for inmates to report abuses; they rarely know the names of staff, who habitually hide their identification badge under their epaulettes. In September 2017, a modified circular reiterated the obligation that staff badges be worn and visible at all times, but this requirement is still widely ignored.
Sexual violence is rarely reported, due to feelings of shame and fear of reprisals.
Research from the University of Brussels (VUB) and the University Center for Forensic Medicine recommended that every incarcerated person convicted of sexual violence be subject to mandatory supervision and risk analysis. The research showed that a person who was treated and monitored by psychologists was 37% less likely to re-offend. The Flemish Minister for Justice, Zuhal Demir, hoped to make therapy, as well as regular risk analysis, mandatory for prisoners with a moderate to high risk of recidivism.
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
Prison management generally knows which staff members are violent toward inmates. These staff members are either punished belatedly or not punished at all, due to fear of strikes. In the majority of cases, perpetrators are simply transferred to another wing of the prison or to another establishment.
Incidents between inmates are frequently observed, but they are rarely reported due to fear of reprisals. It is difficult to quantify these incidents, but violence between inmates has been recorded in all of the prisons. The aggression of some inmates, combined with their confinement in an enclosed space under authoritarian management, fosters violence1.
For more information, see the 2016 report of the International Prison Observatory – Belgian section, pages 147-150 (in French). ↩
Number of complaints filed by prisoners against the prison service
Since 2005, there s a legal process that allows for inmates to file complaints, but it is not always implemented in practice. Circulars are not published, or communicated to inmates.
Prisoners can appeal disciplinary decisions to the Council of State, which rules on the decision’s legality without appreciation of the facts. Inmates can also file cases concerning their detention conditions at the Court of First Instance. These common-law procedures are not adapted to the specificities of prison life.
The Supervisory Body is a specialised body that receives complaints from prisoners.
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
signed in 2005
An NPM has been established
The Civil Society invites the State to ratify this instrument. The government, parliament, and administration each suggest that this responsibility rests elsewhere.
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
Its reports are made public
Latest report published in 2018
The Central Prisons Supervisory Council (Conseil central de surveillance pénitentiaire, CCSP) was created in 2005. It is an independant body tasked with overseeing the country’s 35 prisons. It has 12 members, four of whom are permanent, and provides opinions and recommendations to Parliament and to the relevant ministers. It coordinates commissions within each prison, which are made up of citizens and serve as an intermediary between the prisons and the CCSP. These commissions can provide answers to inmates’ questions, and report problematic situations.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
Sentence adjustments can be granted by the Court for the Enforcement of Sentences.
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
According to the latest available figures, Iin 2016, there were fewer prisoners released on parole (736) than prisoners released after serving their full sentence (832).
Inmates sentenced to less than three years in prison are automatically released after serving one third of their sentence (with the exception of foreigners who are in the country illegally, child sex offenders and those convicted of terrorism offences).
Inmates sentenced to over three years in prison may be granted early release by the Court for the Enforcement of Sentences. They can apply for early release after serving one third of their sentences.
In 2017, the Constitutional Court and the Court for the Enforcement of Sentences abolished the rule requiring that repeat offenders be at least two thirds of the way through their sentence before applying for early release.
A “Mise à disposition” is an additional prison sentence of five to fifteen years prounounced at the end of the original sentence. It is imposed by the Court for the Enforcement of Sentences for serial offenders who are deemed “dangerous”.
Each prison has a psychosocial service comprised of psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists. Their primary mission is to provide an opinion to the relevant authorities regarding sentence adjustments.