The Dutch justice system is cutting jail populations by offering specialist rehabilitation to people with mental illnesses
When Stefan Koning, who has a history of psychosis, was found guilty of threatening a stranger with a knife, a long custodial sentence might have felt like the only answer.
In fact, after a short spell in jail, he is back at his home in Amsterdam.
“Bob is a character from Twin Peaks, a murderer who creeps into the skin of innocent people and makes them do terrible things like murder,” says Koning. “There’s a Bob in me who says ‘kill this person’, that sort of thing. If I take my medicines, Bob is quiet.”
Koning is a beneficiary of a growing tendency in the Netherlands to avoid jailing people unless it is necessary. One key aspect of this is a prodigious programme of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems.
“We work on two aims: number one, preventing another crime, and then on psychiatric suffering and the social problems that come with it,” says Hommo Folkerts, a forensic psychologist and outreach worker who helps Koning.
“We don’t treat people with just depression – it’s people with psychotic vulnerability, autism, severe learning difficulties, often in combination with severe personality disorders, addictions, financial problems, no good home or links with family, and often they are traumatised.
Nobody would approve of the crimes or violence they have committed, but there is a very sad world behind them. If you want to mend all this, it will take a long time.”
In 1988, the UK criminologist David Downes contrasted a relatively humane Dutch prison system favourably against those in England and Wales. Today plummeting prison sentences have left the Netherlands with an unusual problem: it doesn’t have enough inmates to fill its prisons, even after renting out places to Norway and Belgium.
Since 2014, 23 prisons have been shut, turning into temporary asylum centres, housing and hotels. The country has Europe’s third-lowest incarceration rate, at 54.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the justice ministry’s WODC Research and Documentation Centre, the number of prison sentences imposed fell from 42,000 in 2008 to 31,000 in 2018 – along with a two-thirds drop in jail terms for young offenders. Registered crimes plummeted by 40% in the same period, to 785,000 in 2018.
Source: the guardian
Author: Senay Boztas