As prison populations surge in the UK and other parts of the world, with overcrowded cells and repeat offenders, the opposite is happening in the Netherlands.
The country is actually to close eight prisons because of a lack of criminals, the Dutch justice ministry has announced.
Declining crime rates in the Netherlands mean that although the country has the capacity for 14,000 prisoners, there are only 12,000 detainees, reported the nrc.nl.
The decrease is expected to continue, the ministry said, with Deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak saying that natural redundancy and other measures should counter any forced lay-offs. said that surging populations undermined the rehabilitation of prisoners and risked increasing reoffending in the future.
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Netherlands now has more prison staff than prisoners
Dutch Justice Ministry ‘studying what the reason for the decline is’
There are now more guards and other prison staff than there are prisoners in the Netherlands for the first time, according to data released by the Justice Ministry on Friday.
Crime rates have fallen slightly in recent years, but aren’t notably lower in the Netherlands than in neighbouring countries, and many Dutch people think sentences for violent offenders are too light.
In 2008, there were around 15,000 inmates in a country of 17 million. As of March of this year, there were just 9,710 inmates remaining, compared with 9,914 guards. And the number of inmates included 650 Belgian criminals the Netherlands is housing as part of a temporary deal.
In the U.S., the figure is more like one guard or staff member per five prisoners. The overall U.S. incarceration rate is more than 10 times higher.
Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said “we’re studying what the reason for the decline is.” The ministry is already in the process of closing prisons and cutting 3,500 staff.
Last week, labour union Abvakabo FNV slammed the cuts, saying they were leading to “staffing shortages.”
“At this moment you can’t say there is any safety in Dutch prisons,” union leader Corrie van Brenk said in an interview with Dutch broadcaster NOS. “It’s an explosive situation.”
The government has rejected the criticism, saying violent incidents at prisons have been declining.
One change politicians are considering is ending a practice of granting probation to criminals once they have served two-thirds of their sentences. That policy has proved an embarrassment for Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
During his election campaign in 2012, Rutte promised to “fire any justice minister” who granted early release to Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist convicted of murdering politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002.
Van der Graaf will be released on May 2, having served 12 years of his 18-year sentence.
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