Prison population plummets in the Netherlands

328 PRESONSThe Netherlands has closed 23 prisons in five years and has the third-lowest incarceration rate in Europe, with 54.4 incarcerations for every 100,000 inhabitants. The prisons have been converted into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels.

The Dutch judicial system’s success in reducing its prison population can be partly attributed to rehabilitation programmes for people with mental health problems.

Certain people undergoing psychiatric treatment are the beneficiaries of a growing trend in the country; avoid sending people to prison unless it’s absolutely necessary. One of the key aspects of this is a successful programme of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems.

The programme has two aims: to prevent another crime, and to alleviate psychiatric suffering and the social problems that accompany it. The programme regularly deals with patients suffering from psychotic vulnerability, autism or severe learning difficulties which are often combined with serious personality disorders, addictions, financial problems, housing and family-related issues. They are frequently traumatised.

According to the Justice Ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed in the country has fallen from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018. Furthermore, the country has seen a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders, and registered crimes also fell by 40% during the same period, to 785,000 illicit in 2018. Another contributing factor is the increased use of non-judicial penalties such as fines or the use of court-ordered mediation.

There’s also a psychological rehabilitation programme known as TBS. TBS forms part of the criminal justice system but deals specifically with people who can be held not accountable or only partly accountable for their actions.

People eligible to be considered under TBS must have committed a crime which carries a minimum prison sentence of four years and have a high chance of re-offending. The programme concentrates on their reintegration into society. If this is not deemed possible, or they refuse to cooperate, they can be transferred to a high-security prison.

The criminal justice system takes the view that although prison sentences may appear to be the most logical and efficient way to improve security, the truth is that it only helps to create even more dangerous criminals. With this in mind, it believes that less aggressive methods are capable of achieving longer-lasting results and make it easier for people who have committed a crime to reintegrate into society successfully.

It concludes that life in prison is institutionalised, tightly controlled, and therefore nothing like life in the real world. Younger people also tend to be the ones that suffer the most in prison.

Changing our perspective on imprisonment as the standard solution for crime allows us to research more effective preventative measures.


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