Bad news, crime on the wane

The Dutch Ministry of Justice has announced that due to a chronic shortage of criminals it has been forced to close eight prisons. For the last few years, crime has fallen in the Netherlands, which isn’t all good news for some, observes columnist Bert Wagendorp.

Published on 28 May 2009 at 14:21
Oostereiland prison, Netherlands. Photo : Kroontjespen - all rights reserved.

The Netherlands is facing a severe crisis caused by a shortage of delinquents. The government has responded by tabling plans to close eight of our prisons, and a debate on the issue will be held today. But how, you may ask, did this critical situation arise and who is to blame? One solution that might save jobs in the prison system might be to import Belgian criminals. However, the difficulty with this is that our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Maxime Verhagen, will have to beg his counterpart to send us their surplus bandits.

Socialists from the SP party will also participate in the emergency debate, tabled by the liberal right VVD and extreme right PVV parties, because they are concerned about employment guarantees for prison officers. In typical socialist fashion, they have no idea how markets work. So for their benefit we will just explain it one more time: a decrease in the supply of bandits results in a drop in the demand for jailers.

The plan to close the prisons proposed by the Secretary of State for Justice, Mrs Albayrak, was greeted with a hostile reception from the VVD and the PVV, and not surprisingly so. The message is too positive, and has pulled the rug from under their feet. For years, right-wing parties have been telling Dutch voters that crime is out of control, and that anyone who ventures out after six o’clock should do so at their own risk. What we need, they say, are stern measures to protect our neighbourhoods, which are being transformed into ghettoes, so that criminals can be shot in the leg and locked up for life.

But if that is what is needed, it is not what we have been getting. In fact, they tell us, most of our police are agoraphobics, and our judges are super tolerant softies; and the only way to the see the inside of one of the super-luxury hotels we call “prisons” is to murder your entire family. Even then, you will only be allowed to stay for a month. That is why all the cells are empty. In short, it is miracle that anyone is behind bars given that we have all these community work programmes and special homes for aggressive detainees.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they tell us, that is the state our country is in!

Fortunately, we can always count on locking up a few sea-going pirates, otherwise we would have to close even more prisons. But don’t let that make you complacent. One day soon, even these individuals will be let loose wearing electronic bracelets, and you will bump into them strolling through the shopping centre, or on their way to the university where they will be studying oceanography or African literature. And who do you think will pay for that?

Poor old Holland!

For years, voters have been lapping up this kind of rhetoric, and now here is Albayrak to tell us that we will have to close some prisons because crime is on the wane. This is more than a severe blow for the Right; it is a slap in the face with a wet fish. What a low-down dirty trick! Exactly the type of farce that someone like Labara would orchestrate!

I watched the TV news the other day, and there was ex-prosecutor Fred Teeven (right-wing liberal) looking like a desperate man. It is as though Albayrak, with her gloomy project, had just deprived him of his reason to live. I would not be surprised if he robs a bank or mugs an old lady before the emergency debate, just to show what way the fight against crime is going. These are tough times for Fred. He knows the crime rate has been falling since 1995, he knows the alternatives to custodial sentences can produce good results, and he even knows that all things considered, the Netherlands is pretty safe country. But what can he do? Fred makes a living from selling fear, as do the VVD, and the PVV, who sell it in bulk. They do not want the crime rate to fall; they have a business to run.


2000 prison cells too many

The Dutch Secretary of State for Justice, Nebahat Albayrak, has announced that the Netherlands plans to close eight of its prisons, which will result in the loss of 1,200 jobs. The Dutch penitentiary system currently has a capacity of 14,000 cells, which is well in excess of its requirements, now estimated at only 12,000.

The surplus of empty cells reflects a decline in the Netherlands’ crime rate, in particular in the rate for serious crime. One of the measures that has been proposed is to transfer Belgian detainees to Dutch prisons with surplus capacity. Talks on this plan have already been held with the Belgian Minister for Justice, Stefaan de Clerck.

While the Netherlands has a surplus capacity, the Belgian prison system is overcrowded. The shortage of cells in Belgium is now so acute that convicts who are sentenced to less than three years are no longer incarcerated. Instead, they are obliged to wear electronic bracelets, a measure which has now resulted in shortage of bracelets.

In the coming weeks, authorities in both countries will decide on a plan to transfer 500 Belgian detainees to a prison in the Dutch town of Tilburg.

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