The Netherlands keeps having to close its prisons due to a lack of prisoners

Not a bad problem to have.
Not a bad problem to have.
Image: CC Neil Conway
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The Netherlands will close five of its prisons over the next few years because the cost of maintaining them is too high. The reason why the prisons aren’t cost-efficient, however, is something of a national blessing: thanks to the country’s steadily declining crime rate, thousands of prison cells are going unused.

The news was first reported by the Telegraaf (link in Dutch), which obtained government documents disclosing the plan to close five jails. The documents also showed 1,900 prison employees would lose their jobs.

The reason for the closings is two-fold, reports Dutch News: according to Ard van der Steur, the Dutch minister of security and justice, judges are granting shorter sentences, meaning criminals spend less time in jail. But there has also been a decline in more serious crimes. In recent years, the Netherland’s crime rate has declined about 0.9% on average every year, according to Dutch News.

The Netherlands has been facing this good-to-have problem for years now: the country closed eight jails because of the falling prison population in 2009, and shut down another 19 in 2014. And other countries started paying attention: in 2015, Norway transferred more than 1,000 of their inmates to a jail in the Netherlands because it was seeing the opposite trend—there was not enough room for all its criminals in its jails.

The Netherlands isn’t the first country to close jails because it doesn’t have enough criminals. Sweden’s prison numbers fell by about 1% per year from 2004 to 2011. Then between 2011 and 2012, they declined by 6%. In 2013, the country announced it would close four prisons and one other correctional facility due to the unusual trend. One explanation for the decrease in prison numbers, according to the Guardian, was the Swedish supreme court’s 2011 decision to give less harsh sentences for drug offenses, which could have led to inmates spending less time behind bars before going back into society.