Conditions in Bruges prison unacceptable, oversight board says


Prisoners in the high-security wing of one the country’s largest detention facilities haven’t been allowed to go outdoors, shower or receive visitors since an inmate attacked three guards last week

Prison-wide strike

Detention conditions in the prison of Bruges are “unacceptable”, a local prison oversight board has said after completing an inspection visit on Wednesday.

The high-security wing of the Bruges prison, one of the largest detention facilities in the country, has operated under a minimum services regime since last week, when a prisoner who used to compete as a professional wrestler attacked several guards. Three prison officers had to be taken to the hospital, one with a severe head injury.

Under the current minimum services regime, inmates in the prison’s high-security wing aren’t being allowed to leave their cells.

Marc Nève, chair of Central Oversight Board of Prison Systems, told De Standaard that the detainees have had to remain in their cells 24/7 since last week’s incident. “There is no longer any contact between staff and detainees, who feel completely left in the dark and unsafe.”

The oversight board described as especially problematic that eight prisoners who weren’t involved in last week’s violent incident haven’t allowed to go outdoors, to shower or to receive visits. They’ve been passed water and food through their cell doors, the board said.

Several prisoners have already gone on hunger strike in protest at the situation, Nève added.

Nève said the oversight board was naturally sensitive to the severity of last week’s incident. “But what is currently happening is inacceptable. I think animals receive better care than these detainees have,” he said, adding that the Central Oversight Board of Prison Systems was calling for the normal prison regime to immediately be reinstated in the high-security wing.

Labour union secretary Gino Hoppe, however, told De Standaard that the prison’s leadership had taken a lax attitude to prison officers’ physical safety. “I get the impression that they don’t realise what happened. There could have been deadly victims during last week’s incident. It’s normal that staff are now responding to that.”

On Thursday morning, the Bruges guards went on a prison-wide strike after prison management refused to meet their demands for additional security measures.

Photo: Belga/ Kurt Desplenter