Back Intolerable detention conditions in certain Belgian prisons during May 2016 strikes, says Council of Europe's anti-torture committee

In its report published today, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) describes the disturbing situation it found during its visit in May 2016 to Huy, Ittre and Jamioulx prisons, as well as in the social defence establishment (EDS) in Paifve in the context of industrial action by prison staff.

In the establishments visited, virtually all the prison staff were absent from their posts, and the prisons were functioning solely due to the efforts of management staff and a handful of volunteer prison and health service employees assisted by police officers or other reassigned staff.  Even so, this was not sufficient to ensure acceptable conditions of detention.
Consequently, the vast majority of prisoners interviewed during the visit had been unable to leave their cells to exercise, take part in activities or use the telephone for about two weeks.   Similarly, most visits by family members and lawyers could not take place.  Many prisoners remained locked up in their cells around the clock, often with one or more cell-mates.  The three daily meals were all served at once and the "hot" meal was not always hot.  Hygiene conditions were made difficult by random access to showers, often at very long intervals, as well as difficulties in changing or washing clothes.
Access to health care was a concern, as only ongoing treatment and emergencies were dealt with.  This was all the more problematic in the psychiatric unit at Jamioulx and above all at the Paifve EDS, where patients were left without therapeutic care.  In addition, pickets discouraged or blocked both prison and health-care staff from entering the establishment and prevented visits from families and lawyers, as well as deliveries, including of food supplies.
Many of the prisoners seen by the delegation were in a state of stress or anxiety because they were unable to have contact with their families.  In the CPT's opinion, a number of the situations observed, particularly at the Paifve EDS, could be considered as inhumane and degrading, and such conditions of detention were made all the more intolerable by the fact that the industrial action lasted two months in some of the country's establishments.
The CPT calls upon the Belgian authorities to pass legislation, without delay, establishing a guaranteed minimum service in prisons while respecting the rights and freedoms of prison staff, in accordance with European human rights law.
In their response to the report, the authorities state that they were currently preparing a draft law establishing a guaranteed minimum service in prisons, which was to be brought before Parliament by the end of the year.

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