The Netherlands Is So Safe That Its Prisons Are Closing

Chris Ogden in

The Netherlands is widely seen as one of the most tolerant and safe countries in the world, with violent crime in the European nation at an impressive low.

But it might surprise you to learn that the country is so safe that its prisons are having to close as it simply doesn’t have enough prisoners to put in them.

Since 2009 at least twenty-seven of the country’s prisons have closed due to ‘undercrowding’, with five more scheduled to close just last year – a scoop which was first found by the Dutch Telegraaf.

The Dutch prison system is so sparsely populated that in in September 2016 the country imported 240 Norwegian prisoners in order to fill the space, effectively renting its cells out to other countries.

One of the main reasons for the closures is that the Netherlands has one of the lowest incarcaration rates in Europe. The country has a population of 17 million yet only 11,600 people banged up in its prisons – a rate of 69 incarcerations per 100,000 people.

The incarceration rate is so low that the Dutch parliament concluded that the cost of maintaining the sparsely-populated prisons was simply inefficient – but it hasn’t always been that way.

Crime in the Netherlands has been falling steadily since 2004-5 when the government clamped down on hard drugs arriving into the country via international airports, allowing them to ignore soft drugs at home, the Irish Times reported.

Schipol airport. Credit: PA
Schipol airport. Credit: PA

According to The Independent, a combination of the country’s relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation over punishment and the introduction of electronic tagging for criminals have all lowered the crime rate.

In 2008, a report for the country’s justice department found that electronic tagging, which allowed criminals to remain free and get back to work, reduced re-offending by up to half compared with incarceration.

The overall result is that fewer and fewer criminal cases are being logged – in 2011, 167,100 criminal cases were logged in the country, 13 per cent fewer than the previous year, according to the Times’ report.

Yet the Netherlands’ safety has had a knock-on impact – the prison closures mooted last year would have meant the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs. There are also accusations that a lot of crime in the country is just no longer being acted upon.

“This social experiment is spreading through the Netherlands like an oil spill,” Rob Minkes, chair of the Dutch prison officers’ council COR, told the Irish Times. “The question is: is this really benefiting our society? We owe it to the victims of crime to be certain.”

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