The Netherlands have a strange problem: Empty prisons


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Pistol

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If you were to visit a prison in the Netherlands anytime soon, you might find it surprisingly empty. Just last week, the Dutch justice ministry announced that the total number of inmates held in Dutch prisons fell by 27 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

To put the Dutch situation into an American context, a 27 per cent drop in prison population in the United States would see almost 600,000 people released from jail. That’s roughly the population of Milwaukee.

The situation in the Netherlands would seem to buck a broader and longer global trend of rising prison populations. In February, the Institute for Criminal Policy Research published a report that estimated the world’s prison population had grown by almost 20 per cent between 2000 and 2015, a margin above the 18 per cent growth in the general population during that period.

In its own report, the Dutch prison ministry notes that it now has one of the lowest imprisonment rates in Europe with 57 out of 100,000 citizens imprisoned, second only to Finland at 54 per 100,000. England and Wales had the highest in Europe at 148 per 100,000, the report noted, though even that lags far behind the US, which was recently estimated at 693 per 100,000.

The latest decline in the Dutch prison population can be attributed to both a changing environment and changing tactics. The country’s crime rate has dipped by about 0.9 per cent a year during the past few years. At the same time there has also been a switch toward using community service sentences and ankle-bracelet monitoring systems.

These changes have led to an especially notable drop in the number of under-17-year-olds placed in youth detention (55 per cent) as well as 18- to 22-year-olds places in the general prison population (44 per cent).

The decline in the use of prisons has led to a number closing. In 2013, 19 prisons in the country were shut. This March, De Telegraaf reported that a further five were likely to close. Meanwhile, prisons that sit empty have been put to different uses. The country has rented out unused prisons to the Norwegian and Belgian governments to house their own prisoners. Some empty prisons have even been used to house refugees.

“The rooms are intended for one or two people, there are often gyms, a good kitchen,” Janet Helder, a board member with the government agency responsible for housing asylum seekers, said earlier this year. “So in that sense they tick many of the boxes we are looking at.”

However, it’s not necessarily all good news. The closure of prisons creates complications for those employed in the prisons – De Telegraaf reported that the closure of five prisons this year would cost make 1,900 people redundant and a further 700 would be found jobs elsewhere.
There is also a debate whether there are fewer criminals at work or if policing reforms have led to fewer criminals being caught.

“If the government truly worked to catch criminals, we would not have this problem of empty cells,” Socialist Party MP Nine Kooiman said in March.
 
MATHIAS KABYEMERA

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MATHIAS KABYEMERA

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Sio kwamba uharifu umepungua bali sheria zinazingatia haki za binadamu. Pia maisha yao yanatoshereza kupunguza uharifu mdogomdogo kama kuiba kuku na nguo za watu
 
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Waje bongo tuwapunguzie
 
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Hapana nafkiri waende Rwanda watafrah wenyewe
 
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Sio kwamba uharifu umepungua bali sheria zinazingatia haki za binadamu. Pia maisha yao yanatoshereza kupunguza uharifu mdogomdogo kama kuiba kuku na nguo za watu
sure
 

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