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Number of Dutch Prisoners, and Crime Rate, Continue to Fall

In a development not likely to happen any time soon in the United States, the Dutch government has announced that there are currently more guards in their prison system than prisoners. The drop in prisoners coincides with a drop in crime rates.

There are approximately 17 million inhabitants in the Netherlands, a culturally-diverse country in northern Europe.  As of March, 2014, there were 9,710 prisoners, who are watched by 9,914 guards.  In the United States, there is approximately one guard for five prisoners, which does not translate into a lower incarceration rate-the U.S. incarceration rate is ten times higher than that of the Netherlands.

Although some observers have complained that they think sentences are too short, the fact remains that the drop in prisoner population has not resulted in a higher crime rate, and the country is reaping the financial savings.  According to Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said, “We're studying what the reason for the decline is,” while officials close prisons and cut 3,500 in staff.

Predictably, a Dutch labor union, Abvakabo FNV, said the cuts were leading to “staffing shortages,” and that “there is (no) safety in Dutch prisons.”  One union leader, Corrie van Brenk, ignoring the one-to-one ratio of guards to prisoners, said that, “it’s an explosive situation.” Prison authorities in the Netherlands rejected that criticism, saying violent incidents in Dutch prisons have been declining.

Dutch prisoners typically serve two-third of their sentences in prison, while prisoners in the federal Bureau of Prisons in the United States serve approximately 85 percent of their sentences.

See:  “Prison crisis, Dutch style: too few prisoners,” by Katie Zezima, Associated Press, April 11, 2014.

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