Dutch prisoners want control of 'free time'

20th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

20 November 2003, AMSTERDAM — Dutch jails are often accused of being a liberal paradise, but prisoners here think the "house rules" are unclear and they don't like the limitations imposed on how they spend their "free time".

20 November 2003

AMSTERDAM — Dutch jails are often accused of being a liberal paradise, but prisoners here think the "house rules" are unclear and they don't like the limitations imposed on how they spend their "free time".

On a more positive note, people serving prison sentences in the Netherlands feel "relatively safe" compared to jails in other countries.

They also think they are treated well by prison staff, according to the "Prisoner in the Netherlands" study carried out on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Justice.

Dutch prisons are often accused abroad of pampering detainees and some ex-prisoners who have experienced jail time elsewhere agree. They have been known to describe their doing time in the Netherlands as a "push over".

In recent months, the Prison Service has pushed ahead with plans to place two prisoners in each cell. Currently in the majority of jails, prisoners have their own cell and television.

Critics of the two-person cell initiative voiced concerns, saying it could impact negatively on safety and security for prisoners and staff.

One objection put forward was that prisoners sharing a cell might fight about what programme to watch on their television.

Some 10,000 prisoners were asked to take part in the study to help the ministry identify the differences in the prison regimes across the country. Over 60 percent agreed to co-operate.

"The programme is ongoing and the same questions will be put to participating prisoners again several times in the future to help us monitor developments," the ministry said.

So far the prisoners answered in the negative when the age-old question was put to them: "Do you feel your period behind bars has helped you to re-integrate into society as a reformed character?".

Many prisoners said that a stay in a penitentiary and voluntary social integration courses offered during their sentence contributed little or nothing to their eventual return to society, the ministry said.

"Efforts by the prison service (DJI) and other agencies to re-direct prisoners to the right path were not highly valued by prisoners," the report said.

"Nevertheless, many inmates believe they will not re-offend when released from their current sentence."

Prisoners also told the researchers that it was very important that the regulations imposed by the prison system, and the rights of inmates, were clear and precise.

But this was not the case at the moment and the rules differed significantly from one institution to the next, prisoners claimed.

Prisoners in the Netherlands are obliged by law to work 26 hours a week and prisoners felt the most important reasons for doing so was to earn some money and to give them something to do.

But they were very critical of the limitations imposed on their free time at night and during weekends.

"Inmates feel that they are confined to their cells for too long and they are not allowed to spend their free time doing things they like. This is the greatest source of unhappiness in Dutch prisons."

And contrary to foreign perceptions about prisons in the Netherlands, just over three-quarters of the respondents did not agree with the notion that they were residing in a hotel, the report said.

[Copyright Expatica 2003]

Subject: Dutch news

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