In the Netherlands, the government looked at the facts and made some characteristically pragmatic decisions—and the prison population plummetedby Venetia Rainey / December 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in January 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Back in 2006, the Netherlands was charging down the same road as Britain with the second-highest prison population rate in Europe, with 125 prisoners per 100,000 population. A decade later, the Dutch are down to Scandinavian levels, with a prisoner population rate of 69. This dramatic fall has presented the Netherlands with an unusual problem: what to do with its now empty prisons. In the last five years 19 out of 58 prisons have closed down—repurposed as asylum centres, sold off to become hotels or property developments or even rented out to other countries.
What happened in the last 10 years in the Netherlands and, most importantly, can other countries—namely the crisis-hit UK— learn from it? The answer is: it’s complicated.
“At first sight it’s a very simple story,” explained Francis Pakes, a professor in Criminology at the University of Portsmouth and an expert in Dutch prisons and criminal justice. “The starting point is that crime has gone down, so prisoner numbers should go down.” Falling crime only goes so far though. The Dutch government has done something most others haven’t: looked at the facts and made some characteristically pragmatic decisions.
One element is the shift in sentencing attitudes, linked to a change in the types of criminals.
“You see more and more people with mental illnesses and a lower mental development,” said Pauline Schuyt, a professor of p…