Dutch prisoners given more freedom in experiment; prison staff worried


An increasing number of Dutch prisons are taking part in an experiment in which certain prisoners are given more freedom of movement and responsibility. The idea is to prod prisoners into becoming more self-sufficient. But the prison guards are worried that the experiment is only giving the detainees more freedom to conduct their criminal business within the prison walls, they said to newspaper AD.

The experiment entails giving prisoners the keys to their own cells. They are allowed to move around freely in certain parts of the prison until 9:30 p.m. They have to make sure that they get to their day programs and work details on time. And they have a digital screen on which they can order their own groceries and make appointments with other prisoners or prison staff. The experiment was first done in Dordrecht, Heerhugowaard and Zaandam, and has now been extended to include 60 prisoners in Arnhem.

"There is too little supervision on these guys", Rob Minkes, chairman of the Judicial Institutions Department's central works council, said to AD. "These prisoners can do everything themselves, without supervision. The risk is therefore that they continue with their criminal business because they can chat with each other for long periods and without interruption. It is also easier to trade drugs, for example."

According to Minkes, there is too little sight on the effects of this experiment. "This experiment is expanding across the Netherlands like an oil spill, but it still hasn't been properly investigated whether it has a positive effect on the behavior of detainees. We also owe it to the victims of crimes to first make sure that it benefits society."

The experiment is also intended to give prison guards more time to have conversations with detainees. "But I highly doubt that happens", Minkens said to the newspaper. "Guards see this experiment as an ordinary cut on prison staff."

The Ministry of Security and Justice hopes that helping prisoners become more self-sufficient will also help them rejoin society when they leave prison. "The policy is aimed at activating detainees and giving them more responsibility", a Ministry spokesperson said to the newspaper. "It is linked to conditions to ensure safety. Detainees can't just move about freely, and their internet is also limited."