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CfB Bureau

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The Dutch government is reportedly looking to close five prisons this year (2016) as falling crime rate in the country has meant the cells are empty. Justice minister Ard van der Steur recently told parliament that more prisons will close in the next few years as the government looks to cut the cost of hundreds of empty cells.

Van der Steur is reported to have said that judges were imposing shorter sentences, meaning criminals were spending less time on average in jail. More serious crimes were also becoming less common, he added. After finalising plans to close 19 prisons last year, the justice ministry said there were no plans for further cuts, but Van der Steur said the empty cells were costing the state too much.

Now The Telegraaf says it has obtained internal documents revealing that the government plans to shut five more prisons, with the loss of 1,900 jobs. A further 700 staff will be given ‘mobile’ positions, though the exact meaning of this is unclear.

The downward trend in crime, which has fallen by an average of 0.9% in recent years, is expected to mean 3,000 prison cells and 300 youth detention places will be surplus to requirements in five years’ time.

It was reported that an additional cause for this was those convicted were increasingly choosing electronic tagging instead of incarceration. This allows people to go back to work and continue as productive members of society. It also saves about $50,000 per year per person (about $50 million saved per year for every 1000 people).

In 2009, the Dutch justice ministry had announced closing of eight prisons in the country due to a declining crime rate which was expected to continue.

The problem of maintaining empty cells has meant the Dutch government having to reclaim part of the cost by importing prisoners from countries with a surplus. Last September the first of 240 Norwegian convicts were transferred to Veenhuizen jail, in Drenthe, under a deal between the two governments for an initial period of three years..

Countries with low incarceration rates typically take a different approach to criminal justice and their investment in social services. In the Netherlands, for example, the focus is on “deterring and mitigating crime” as well as “sanctioning those who violate laws with … rehabilitation efforts.”

While progressive laws in the Netherlands may be partially the reason for a decline in arrests, other social factors are also at work. This points to crime reduction through changing social behaviour as a key to reducing incarceration — rather than just changing the laws or telling police to stop arresting people as a method for artificially creating the perception that there’s less crime.

This story originally appeared on and

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