Belgium: a snapshot of prison health

The main health problem facing the penitentiary system in Belgium is chronic overcrowding and the resulting stress and communicable diseases. In addition, the country, particularly the Dutch-speaking northern region, lacks services for mentally ill offenders.

As a result of the shortage of treatment options in the community, mentally ill offenders are housed in prison wings. They already make up 10% of the prisoner population in Belgium. Although the situation has slightly improved in recent years, with the introduction of care teams (psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses), conditions remain poor.

Improvements under way

In 2010, the Minister of Justice approved a master plan for prisons: renovating existing structures and building new prisons. The first new prisons will be ready in 2013. The building of two new forensic psychiatric hospitals, with a combined capacity of about 600 patients, will begin soon. These institutions should also be operational in 2013 or early 2014.

Facts and figures

  • Total country population (2010): 10.5 million
  • Number of prisoners (2010): 10 535
  • Prisoners/inhabitants: 100/100 000
  • Overcrowding (2010): 17.7%, but up to 50% in some prisons
  • 2 closed settings for minors in the federal prison system
  • 1 prison for minors (16–18 years), convicted as adults
  • Rent of a prison (infrastructure and staff) in the Netherlands (Tilburg prison) since 2010

Information provided by:
Sven Todts
Director of Medical and Dental Care, Department of Justice