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.
Number and percentage of prisoners who work
More than 40% of the country’s prisoners allegedly had access to a job. Available work included carpentry, metalworking, bicycle repair, book binding and cheesemaking. Through the platform Cellmade, these professional pursuits would finance about one hundred “wellness” projects across the country’s prisons, including sport and cultural activities, programs for preventing drug use, gardening and more.
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.
A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding
Some specific needs of women are taken into account.
About 300,000 tampons and menstrual pads would be made available at no cost to female prisoners in Belgium’s 10 women’s prisons. The minister responsible for the fight against poverty said that “access to these supplies is not a luxury nor a vanity but simply a fundamental need.” The project was one of the 2021 government’s new material aid measures. The goal of the project was to reduce poverty for female prisoners, in all its forms.
The prison service offers activities to prisoners
Activities are organised by outside associations, dependent on each establishment. The options are limited.
Penalised inmates are often deprived of taking part in activities.
A ukulele manufacturing workshop opened its doors at the Marche-en-Famenne prison. The instruments would be given to children in Gaza, Palestine. The nonprofit Music Fund ran the workshop. Ukuleles would arrive in a kit and require an average of about 30 hours of work per instrument.
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.
According to the Council of Europe’s annual report, the number of suicides in Belgian prisons was three times higher than that of other European countries. The Council of Europe put forward the hypothesis of prison overcrowding as one potential major cause of this high rate.
There is a high number of drug addicts. A study reveals that 33% of the prisoners questioned say that they use drugs on a regular basis.
Another study reveals that 68% of prisoners are considered to be highly dependent on legal or illegal psychotropics. Antidepressants are used for lack of a genuine course of care. 43% of the prescriptions issued are for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
Two researchers from the ‘Neederland Studicentrum Criminaliteit’ found in April 2019 that 37% of people in prison in Flanders suffer from serious psychological disorders. Of these cases, 21% are the result of drug use, 10% of alcohol use and 4% of the effects of drug addiction. The use of psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines, antidepressants and antipsychotics is three times higher than in the general population. The risk of suicide is also greater. This trend is more prevalent among men than women.
Several actors and projects seek to intervene and ensure a preventative approach within the institutions. According to research, 50% of prisoners have access to prevention programs.
Actions regarding risk reduction are limited. Only a few pilot projects exist (including those related to suicide).
On average, at least one prisoner out of every three in the Belgian correctional system would use drugs. Those incarcerated at Gand prison had the option of participating in a 40-week supervision program twice a year. The program, partially funded by prisoners’ jobs, aimed to combat drug use in prisons. Federal Minister for Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne hoped to launch this program in other Belgian prisons.
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 Cohen1, reiterates the importance of individual monitoring of prisoners and the guarantee of their right to appeal as provided by the law.
Board member of Prison Insider ↩
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).