To read this content please select one of the options below:

Ceci N’est Pas Une Fouille À Corps’: The Denial of Strip Searches in Belgian Prisons

Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective

ISBN: 978-1-78350-910-2, eISBN: 978-1-78350-907-2

Publication date: 10 October 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This chapter reconstructs and critically examines the recent history of strip searches in Belgium. About 10 years ago the Belgian parliament adopted its first law on prisoners’ rights. A major part of the Prison Act of 12 January 2005 deals with disciplinary and control measures. Article 108, in particular, has provoked quite some controversy. It introduced a clear distinction between the (more superficial) search of an inmates’ clothes on the one hand, and the (substantially more intrusive) measure of strip searching on the other hand. The main difference between these two measures is that the latter involves forcing prisoners to strip naked. Because of their intrinsic intrusiveness, such strip searches were meant to be exceptional measures: they should only take place following an individual assessment and decision by the prison governor. In practice, however, the prison administration tended to interpret Article 108 somewhat differently and the line between searching an inmate’s clothes on the one hand and strip searching on the other became blurred.

Design/methodology/approach

I first discuss the problem of order in prisons and explore how strip searches have been regulated in Europe. I then reconstruct the recent history of the regulation of strip searches in Belgium. In order to make sense of this history, I mobilize some of the ideas of Stanley Cohen’s sociology of denial, in particular, his distinction between literal, implicatory and interpretive denial, and apply these to the history of strip searches in Belgium.

Findings

A consistent finding from this chapter is that the Belgian prison administration has – through creative manoeuvres of interpretive denial – been able to circumvent the new barriers that were erected by the Prison Act of 12 January 2005 and, in doing so, it has been able to continue stripping detainees naked without an individualized decision from the prison governor. The approach that I develop throughout this chapter helps us better appreciate the limits of legal reform and top-down (European) regulation of strip searches.

Originality/value

The chapter demonstrates that Stanley Cohen’s work on denial is not only useful for scholars who do research on gross human rights violations but also for interpreting more down-to-earth aspects of criminal justice systems across the globe.

Keywords

Citation

Daems, T. (2014), "‘Ceci N’est Pas Une Fouille À Corps’: The Denial of Strip Searches in Belgian Prisons", Punishment and Incarceration: A Global Perspective (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 19), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 75-94. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1521-613620140000019003

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014 Emerald Group Publishing Limited