Case Studies

The Forest Prison case


The Forest Prison case involved 22 prison guards who were alleged to have committed undue violence, and inhumane and degrading treatment against detainees in the Forest Prison in Belgium between 2014 and 2015.

Also accused was one former prison director who was alleged to have authorised the placement of a person with psychiatric problems in solitary confinement. The trial was the first of its kind in Belgium, given the number of prison guards involved in the proceedings.

One detainee, for instance, was beaten because they refused to undress in front of a guard. One of the victims testified that he was beaten by up to 11 guards in his cell after an exchange of insults. As a result of the violence, he suffered the loss of hearing in his left ear.

Another victim, who wished not to be named, was reportedly beaten up during the transfer from his cell to the isolation cell. The violence left him with a black eye and multiple injuries.

The prison guards in question had been in service for several years in the D wing of the prison and were nicknamed “SS” by the detainees. They reportedly considered it a game to insult, humiliate and provoke prisoners, and reportedly organised bets on the number of prisoners they could send to solitary confinement per day. The accused guards also reportedly regularly cut electricity in cells to cause incidents between the detainees, sent them to the toilet without toilet paper, left them in isolation after the maximum time limit or cut off the water in the shower while they were washing.

The victims are all vulnerable, with some suffering from psychological problems. Many were not able to speak French.

The evidence presented in court included medical reports certifying traces of violence and transcripts of SMS conversations between the guards, whose phones were seized in house searches during the investigation. In some of the exchanges, some of the guards explicitly bragged about using violence against detainees.

Complaints were lodged by several detainees and a prison director himself for the repeated punitive raids on detainees perpetrated by the group of guards. The complaints led to the initiation of a criminal investigation in 2015, and to accusations of inhumane and degrading treatment against 22 prison guards, and of negligence against 1 former prison director. The prosecution has requested prison sentences ranging from 6 months to 5 years for all the accused.

In the final verdict, delivered in March 2019, fourteen of the guards were given suspended sentences of between 2 to 20 months’ imprisonment.