The twists and turns of internment

Belgium’s first closed internment centre is now being built in Ghent. The Forensic Psychiatric Centre in Ghent (FPCG) grew out of the
requirement for a centre for psychiatric care of medium to high risk. In the best cases, forensic psychiatry is at present provided in a specialised wing of a prison and that is at odds with elementary principles of the law. Internment is after all not a punishment.

Design Forensic Psychiatric Centre Ghent (FPCG)

The introduction of the new programme meant that the relevant parties – the federal Ministries of Justice, Public Health and Finance (Buildings Agency) – had no specific practical examples or appropriate legal framework to provide a model. However, starting from a blank sheet turned out to throw up more obstacles than opportunities. After 5 years of negotiation and design, the building process finally started even though no operating body had yet been appointed.


In this way, an investment of about 80 million euro was made over the heads not only of the patients, but also the staff. The unclear status of the internees is reflected in the future staff of the FPC. The question remains open whether they are carers, guards or some other as yet undefined professional category. It is around this point that the dispute revolves between the ministries involved, about who will pay the high running costs of the FPC, and in what proportions.


An additional problem is that the group that was set up to provide advice for the design of the FPC appears to be the only possible operating body. This Platform for the Forensic Psychiatric Centre, Ghent (PFPCG) brought together all the relevant parties from the care sector under Martin Vanden Hende, who, as head of OBRA, offers support to mentally disabled internees in Ghent prison. Now that the PFPCG wants to make a bid in the public tendering procedure to run the FPC it is no longer permitted toperform its advisory function.


In any case, the advisory group formulated the theoretical concept. In the first place, in addition to observation and security, the FPC had to provide a high-quality care system. After all, too much concentration on internal and external security has a negative influence on the therapeutic atmosphere. The essential protection of society and the internal security of the centre should not detract from the course of treatment in which trial and error must remain possible.


In the second place, the FPC had to make room for several small-scale units inside the perimeter of the complex, where separate regimes apply for different clinical disorders and vary depending on the size of the group of patients. The difference between short and long stay is especially crucial in this regard. In this connection spacious green areas were requested for therapeutic purposes.




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