Gov't advised to legally ban keeping minor suspects in police custody

Cells in a Dutch police station
Cells in a Dutch police stationPhoto: Politie

Minor suspects of a criminal offense should not be detained in a police cell and that principle must be laid down in the law, the council for the application of criminal justice and youth protection RSJ said in advice to Ministers Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security and Sander Dekker for Legal Protection, NRC reports.

Currently, Dutch law allows children from the age of 12 who are suspected of a crime or violation to be detained pending questioning. In the case of serious crimes, they can be kept in custody for up to three days if the police investigation demands it. 

According to the RSJ, that goes against the best interest of the child - which must always outweigh the importance of the police investigation. Being detained can be "traumatic" for children. "There are few facilities for minors, the cell complexes are built for adults. This can lead to frightening situations for children, for example due to screams of drunk or disturbed detainees," RSJ researcher Peter van der Laan said to NRC. 

Only with great necessity should a child be put in jail. "For example, because they pose a direct danger to society or their environment," Van der Laan said. That necessity must be proven by a Public Prosecutor. Otherwise, children should be able to await the outcome of the police investigation at home. "Or if that is not possible because of the home situation, with family or in a youth institution," the researcher said. 

Because there will be cases in which a minor suspect will have to be detained, the RSJ advised creating special child-friendly cells. And training those in charge of caring for detainees on how to handle children. "They are currently insufficiently aware of the other rules for dealing with children." The RSJ also advised detaining children for no longer than 24 hours, after which a magistrate must assess whether the child should be kept in custody. 

In 2018 a total of 21,608 minor suspects were detained by the police. 4,675 of them were kept in custody for a longer period and often had to spend the night in police cells intended for adults.

Last year the police changed its policy to no longer detain children after a first minor offense. This followed a successful experiment with sending these minor suspects away with a strong reprimand in Twente, and a call from the Children's Ombudsman to not let kids sleep in jail for minor crimes