The Netherlands Are Successfully Closing Their Prisons

The Netherlands Are Successfully Closing Their Prisons

Over the past few years, The Netherlands have been closing down their prisons. Why? Because a colossal downturn in crime simply means that they aren’t needed anymore. So, just how does the population of 17.2 million people manage to create a country where there’s an incarceration rate of just 50.4 per 100,000? The answer may surprise you – it’s simply treating the prisoners like human beings.

23 Prisons Have Shut in The Netherlands Since 2014

Since 2004, the Dutch prison rate has halved what it once was. Most significantly, the rate of young offenders has been reducing year on year, with a drop of two-thirds ending up in jail. This is huge news in a world where demanding prison time seems to be the catch-all answer to crime.

Netherlands closing prisons

Many of the prisons are now temporary asylum centers. Which is helping to solve a further issue in where to place asylum seekers, as they arrive in the country. However, they’re also known to assist in the housing crisis further, turning into housing developments or even hotels, instead. Interestingly, the former Bijlmerbajes prison complex in Amsterdam has even been housing a Syrian refugee-run pop-up restaurant – before undergoing demolition, last year.

How Are They Doing This?

This is not the first time The Netherlands has led the charge in solving problems. Many of which can be seen the world over. So, it comes as no surprise that the country is setting a brilliant example in how to manage a crisis. As always, with policies such as these, the decision-making process stems from utilizing studies and research.

In 2016, a government study on capacity also noticed that a “focus on sentencing, with both an increase in shorter sentences and examining how crimes impact society, have helped reduce the prison population”, says Wiebe Alkema, spokesperson at the Ministry of Justice and Security. Using this study, the government was able to adjust current legislation, to better suit the needs of communities. Not to mention they look into the reasons why the crimes are committed.

The Netherlands Sees Prisoners Differently to Most of the Western World

Speaking to the Guardian, Miranda Boone, a professor of criminology at Leiden University, has studied the collapse in the prison population. “There is no doubt that the prison population is reducing very significantly in the last 13 years. [Which is] an amazing and, in the western world, unparalleled development,” she says.

“Compared to the U.S., Dutch judges are much less likely to give a prison sentence. More often they give a financial penalty or community service,” says Hilde Wermink, assistant professor of criminology at Leiden University. “They decide on a case-by-case basis to assess whether a prison sentence is appropriate or in fact harmful.”

dutch prisons closing
Photo by Kayla Ihrig from Pexels

Since the studies have repeatedly shown that longer prison sentences – which combines with the idea that jail-time should be the first port of call – are ineffective as deterrents, the Netherlands opts for more community-based convictions. Community service and electronic monitoring are proven to be much more effective, instead.

In fact, one study shows that offenders in Belgium, who have sentences of between six months and three years, are much less likely to re-offend when using these methods. This is in comparison to offenders who spend the same time behind bars.

Research is Ongoing

Of course, 10 years of impact still won’t have the same level of research as the traditional method, which has hundreds of years behind it. It’s also important to note that the reasons why crime happens can differ from country to country, due to cultural and socioeconomic reasons. However, this is a great start. If everything goes well, it could mean a huge change in how criminals are rehabilitated. Which means that, overall, more people are less likely to turn to crime to solve their problems.



Editor-in-chief, lover of UX/UI and copywriter by trade. Wendy can usually be found ranting to herself over on Twitter, educating herself about health and wellness, parenting or gaming. Luckily, she doesn't do all of these things at the same time - though you'd be surprised how often they cross over.

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