Back Belgium: Anti-torture committee calls for improved prison conditions, better care for psychiatric internees and stronger action against police brutality

In a report published today on its periodic visit to Belgium in March/April 2017, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) focused on the Belgian authorities' efforts to improve the treatment and detention conditions of prisoners, ensure better care for psychiatric patients subject to an internment measure and combat police brutality. The CPT's findings are unequivocal: there is still much to be done.

In its report, the Committee referred to the public statement it had felt obliged to make in July 2017, calling on the authorities and all stakeholders to face up to their responsibilities and quickly find a solution for introducing a minimum service in prison establishments guaranteeing prisoners' basic rights, particularly during industrial action by prison staff.  The CPT now requested that the Belgian authorities keep it regularly informed of progress in this area.

The report notes that, while prison staff generally seemed to set store by maintaining good relations with prisoners and being able to rapidly defuse any risk situations, there were credible allegations of recent physical ill-treatment of male prisoners by certain prison staff, including team leaders.

Where prison detention conditions were concerned, there was a striking contrast on the whole between the recently built Leuze-en-Hainaut Prison and the other prisons visited, where management and staff had to cope with prevailing overcrowding in largely ageing facilities.  The CPT appreciated the efforts made to combat overcrowding, while pointing out that there should not be excessive emphasis on increasing the number of places in prisons.  The lack of organised activities in the prisons visited was a cause for concern, with the Committee pointing out that it may have serious consequences (increased tension, frustration and violence, greater risk of radicalisation, etc.).

The CPT welcomed the reform of the psychiatric internment system, geared in the long term to better care for patients in specialised establishments.  It highlighted the undeniable step forward represented by the care-oriented approach and resources provided at the Ghent forensic psychiatry centre, the first establishment of its kind in Belgium.  However, the psychiatric facilities in prison establishments suffered from the same old systemic problems such as a severe lack of staff, care limited to pharmacological treatment and inadequate management of psychiatric emergencies.  The psychiatric annex of Lantin Prison was the most alarming example.

Finally, the CPT looked at the treatment of people detained by the police.  The report mentions several allegations relating to the excessive use of force, generally during or shortly after arrest.  The Committee issued a set of recommendations aimed at supervision, training and improved procedural safeguards against ill-treatment.

The report has been made public at the request of the Belgian authorities.  Deviating from the practice of recent years, the Belgian government wished the report to be published before the communication of its response, which is to be made by summer 2018.

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