Harsher prison sentences demanded for guards on trial for inhumane treatment

Harsher prison sentences demanded for guards on trial for inhumane treatment
Forest prison walls. Credit: Ugo Realfonzo / The Brussels Times

The Public Prosecutor's Office is demanding suspended prison sentences of two to 20 months for guards and a warden of a prison in Brussels accused of inhumane treatment.

The warden and guards of Forest prison are on trial for acts of physical and moral violence committed against inmates in 2014 and 2015, Belga News Agency reports.

The accused are appealing an initial guilty verdict but the new judge seems poised to deliver even harsher sentences than the first judge. For some defendants, however, a partial reprieve is being demanded and for others a full one.

Insulting, humiliating, provoking

The investigation started in 2015 after some detainees filed complaints for repeated violence by guards in the prison.

The accused guards had been working in the D-wing and the psychiatric ward for several years.

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The officers, nicknamed "SS" by the detainees, are said to have made a game of insulting, humiliating or provoking the prisoners, betting how many prisoners they could send to solitary confinement in a day. They also allegedly regularly cut off the electricity and water to the showers.

In a first ruling, the court found 14 of the 21 defendants guilty of the offences. The guards currently appearing in court deny that they abused their power and treated the prisoners for fun.

Stricter sentences than first announced

The sentences demanded are stricter than had been pronounced in the first instance for some defendants. For example, the public prosecutor asked for a 20-month prison sentence for one guard without the postponement that had been granted in the first ruling.

In the first instance, the court pronounced suspended prison sentences of two to 20 months in March 2019, but both the defence and the public prosecutor's office appealed against this.

For the ex-director of the prison, who was prosecuted for placing a person with severe mental problems in an isolation cell, the public prosecutor asked for a six-month suspended prison sentence.

The new prosecutor believes that the suspended sentence, which was granted to her in the first instance, is not severe enough.

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