The Dutch have already closed 19 prisons due to super low crime rates, but the government just announced that the tiny country doesn’t have the funds to keep so many empty institutions open, and will close another round of prisons; they are simply unneeded.
Some newspapers are calling the situation “the Dutch Prison Crisis,” as there is a shortage of prisoners to fill institutions of incarceration, but as the UK and US struggle due to prison over-crowding, the Netherlands prison population keeps getting smaller.
The incarceration rate in the Netherlands is just 69 per 100,000 people. This stands in glaring contrast to the US prison system, largely thought to be an industry unto itself, where the rate is 716 per 100,000.
The U.S. incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world.
The US recidivism rate — the rate at which people are sent back to prison after being incarcerated — is 52%, according to 2013 data. The Netherlands’ is closer to 40% and has been declining for more than a decade now.
It should be noted that the Netherlands, Amsterdam specifically, have had a legal marijuana and sex trade for many decades now. This is an intersecting side note considering the observations of one Dutch sociologist, Frank Weerman of the Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, who says low crime rates in the Netherlands might be due to a decrease in heroin addiction.
However, Weerman remains uncertain.
“I am not sure what exactly is the contribution of all this to the decline in prisoners in the Netherlands, but it probably has played a role,” he says.
When Colorado recently legalized marijuana, drug-related crime rates dropped significantly, and numerous studies suggest that as medical marijuana becomes freely available to those who need it, addictions to other, more harmful drugs decrease, as does the illegal trade of pharmaceutical opiates. One analysis found that in states which had legalized medical marijuana, hospitals treated fewer opiod users.
Others suggest that the way prisoners are treated has something to do with the low recidivism rates. Fewer than 10% return to the prison system due to tailor made rehabilitation based on the individual.
“In the Dutch service we look at the individual,” says Van der Spoel, a prison worker,
“If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. So, we try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”
Whatever they are doing it’s working. Compared to the U.S., the Dutch have low crime and no use for over-crowded prisons. Hopefully more research will be conducted to find out why their incarceration rates are so low so that their model can be replicated.