After struggling for years in search of the so-called ‘perfect’ society, we may have truly discovered a utopian country: the Netherlands.
Prisons in the United States, the United Kingdom, and various other countries across Europe are faced with a sudden influx of prisoners in jails. However, the Dutch have the opposite problem: empty jail cells.
According to the Ministry of Justice, a third of Dutch prisons are currently vacant. It also predicts that there will be over 3,000 empty cells by 2021. The total number of inmates in the Netherlands fell by 27% between 2011 and 2015. To put things into perspective, while the US has about 666 prisoners per 100,00 citizens, the Netherlands has 61 prisoners, which is similar to the number in Scandinavian countries.
One of the reasons for the decline is the novel approach of emphasizing rehabilitation rather than incarceration, often giving more freedom to inmates, such as the right to visit the local library and canteen. By doing so, the government hopes to better support inmates when they assimilate back to their normal lives.
The rise of the digital age is also responsible for this shift, as technology has largely helped police officers better look after criminals. In addition, the Netherlands have recently been electronically tagging offenders after they are released from prison in order to minimize the possibility of them engaging in criminal activity again.
The declining number of prisoners has encouraged the government to come up with creative ways to utilise the empty cells.
Belgium and Norway have started to rent the unused cells in the Netherlands in order to jail their prisoners. According to a New York Times article, two years ago, Norway paid $27 million per year in a three year contract in order to rent a prison.
Similarly, over a dozen prisons have been re-established for use by asylum seekers this year; the cells have been revamped into more modern day apartment styles for families. De Koepel, a former prison in Haarlem, was renovated into a large soccer field for refugees, while other areas have been changed to gymnasiums, kitchen facilities and even outdoor gardens.
The use of empty prison cells for renting and housing for asylum seekers have caused a decline of prison cells as well. In response, many workers have expressed concerns about this issue.
Frans Carbo, a representative of the Trade Union (FNV), claims that many prison workers are “angry and depressed” because “there is no future in prisons any more–you never know when your prison will be closed.”
Likewise, the concerns of Dutch prisons have escalated even further when it comes to the role of government. Dutch MP Nine Kooiman argues that it is the government’s lack of security that led them to deal with this situation, believing that “if the government really worked at catching criminals,” there would be no empty cells.
Although it may seem at first glance that the Dutch are a perfect society with the low rates of incarceration, there are still multiple concerns that come with its benefits. Whether or not the empty cells in the Netherlands are a portrayal of a perfect society is yet to be decided, as many officials are unsettled by the issue. Perhaps, the Netherlands will be a role model country for others to imitate and possibly reduce high crime rates.