From prevention to punishment

7th June 2007, Comments 1 comment

One of our legal experts answers a reader's question regarding the penal system in the Netherlands and its effectiveness as a deterrent to criminality.

Re: A camera in my dustbin

Dear editor,

As to your comments that "Criminals, for instance, are spoilt for choice", are you saying you support "second chances" or are you saying that people should just be put in prison or fined? A clarification as to your view would be helpful.


Robyn Richardson

Editor’s note: To give you some more background, a Dutch friend said that he had seen a TV documentary on how criminals are given ample choice as to what training they can receive – in a chosen sector (Arts/ business/ catering and so forth) to give them a good chance in their post-prison life. This friend objected to these prisoners almost being ‘rewarded’ after serving their term and being given more chances in some ways than the average man or woman on the street.

The second viewpoint was that criminals should be fined heavily and directly as a strong deterrent, depending on the severity of the crime, and that money shouldn’t be pumped into the system to put these people through expensive courses.


I have had Lawyer David Nauta comment further on this point and the Netherlands’ approach to punishment:


Absolute approach

The discussion on how to punish criminals is quite ancient. The absolute approach is that of ‘an eye for an eye....’. The fact that a person has committed a crime, is reason enough that he or she should be punished.

Relative approach

The relative approach is that the goal of punishment should be "prevention". There is general prevention and special prevention: the threat for punishment is enough for potential criminals not to commit a crime. The special prevention is that the criminal, once served the sentence, will decide not to commit a crime again. The goal is this theory is prevention rather than revenge.


The Netherlands’ ‘mixed’ approach:  shifting from prevention to punishment

The Netherlands has a mixed approach. It bases its penal system on both theories, with emphasis on the special prevention – one should be punished for the crimes one has committed, but also the punishment should be preventive in nature as well. Prevention can also be achieved if the convicted has - when the sentence has been served - some future ahead. The offender will not fall back in despair and commit crimes again. A study, for instance, will allow her or him to see other possibilities then, for instance, stealing from people. The same goes for a job prospect.

The effectiveness of this policy is doubtful. The Dutch government has not see a lot of positive results from these projects of offering study facilities or employment guidance.

Sometimes citizens find it hard to accept that an offender is granted far more facilities or openings then persons who have committed no crime. I could agree on this to some extent. In fact in the past victims were treated with less attention and priority then the offenders!

In the recent past one can see that the government is shifting its policy more and more towards punishment then prevention. So, in the end negative opinions on your statement might have the winning hand.


David Nauta LL.M.
Guapa Legal

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7 June 2007

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