The Dutch have a prison crisis — they’re running out of prisoners

❝ While the UK and much of the world struggles with overcrowded prisons, the Netherlands has the opposite problem. It is actually short of people to lock up. In the past few years 19 prisons have closed down and more are slated for closure next year. How has this happened – and why do some people think it’s a problem?…

…Learning to cook is just one of the ways the prison helps offenders to get back on track after their release…”In the Dutch service we look at the individual”…says Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high-security prison in the north-east of the Netherlands.

“If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. So we try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”…

He adds that some persistent offenders – known in the trade as “revolving-door criminals” – are eventually given two-year sentences and tailor-made rehabilitation programmes. Fewer than 10% then return to prison after their release. In England and Wales, and in the United States, roughly half of those serving short sentences reoffend within two years, and the figure is often higher for young adults…

❝ A decade ago the Netherlands had one of the highest incarceration rates in Europe, but it now claims one of the lowest – 57 people per 100,000 of the population, compared with 148 in England and Wales.

But better rehabilitation is not the only reason for the sharp decline in the Dutch prison population – from 14,468 in 2005 to 8,245 last year – a drop of 43%.

❝ The peak in 2005 was partly due to improved screening at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, which resulted in an explosion in the numbers of drug mules caught carrying cocaine.

Today the police have new priorities, according to Pauline Schuyt, a criminal law professor from the southern city of Leiden. “They have shifted their focus away from drugs and now concentrate on fighting human trafficking and terrorism,” she says.

In addition, Dutch judges often use alternatives to prison such as community service orders, fines and electronic tagging of offenders…”Sometimes it is better for people to stay in their jobs, stay with their families and do the punishment in another way,” says Angeline van Dijk, director of the prison service…

“We have shorter prison sentences and a decreasing crime rate here in the Netherlands so that is leading to empty cells.”

The desire to protect prison service jobs has sparked another surprising solution – the import of foreign inmates from Norway and Belgium.

In a thoughtful society, one considering useful employment to be available for all, the question of prison closures is significant. One of the bright spots on that front – is importing prisoners from other countries. In the Netherlands, prisoners from Belgium and Norway are taking up residence in cells empty of local prisoners.

RTFA. Lots of anecdotal discussion. It surely would be nice in many Western nations to have a “problem” like this one.

One thought on “The Dutch have a prison crisis — they’re running out of prisoners

  1. Barb Knowles says:

    Such an unusual article. I was wondering if it was going to end up being a joke. But there is actually a country that rehabilitates? Like in the true meaning of rehabilitates? Bring them into the US as consultants.

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