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Violence in Prisons

NCJ Number
R Screvens; B Bulthe; A Renard
Date Published
87 pages
The organization of Belgian prisons, types of prison violence, and the causes of that violence are described.
The 35 Belgian penitentiaries are categorized into 3 social defense institutions and 32 institutions focusing on resocialization of inmates in open, semi-open, or closed facilities. Prisons house approximately 6,046 inmates; individually, they have a capacity of anywhere from 100 to 900 individuals. Every inmate is required to work as part of the resocialization and vocational training program. Inmates receive remuneration and benefits such as pensions and accident insurance. In practice, it is difficult to judge the individual needs of prisoners in selecting an appropriate institution. Furthermore, there are chronic shortages of space in institutions and in facilities for recidivists. Violence within the prisons is classified as violence to prison personnel causing personal injury, violent mass uprisings, and psychological violence (non-violent forms of mass protest such as witnessed at Louvain in 1976). Psychological violence is relatively rate. Violence to personnel, which occurs mainly in institutions for resocialization, has not been a serious problem (i.e., an average of two cases a year until 1976), but is on the rise. Thirteen violent uprisings took place in Belgian prisons from 1969 to 1977, all of them in closed institutions for resocialization. In eight of the 13 cases, the percentage of foreigners in the institution was high. Prison violence is attributed on one hand to causes within prisons such as a large number of foreign prisoners, inadequacy of hygiene, leisure activities, food, work places, and cell facilities, and staff inmate communication problems. On the other hand, factors outside the prison system, e.g., preventive detention, lack of contact with the central corrections administration, unfair requirements for conditional release, and information from mass media, may play a role. Frequently, causes of the first type are pretexts which obscure basic issues such as dissatisfaction with eligibility practices for conditional release. Reforms to control violence have included improvement of living conditions and notification of prisons concerning their parole status, but in practice few meaningful changes have been made and reform on the basic level is needed. Notes, tables, and a bibliography (18 citations) are supplied. --in French.