About a third of Dutch prison cells sit empty, according to the Ministry of Justice. Criminologists attribute the situation to a spectacular fall in crime over the past two decades and an approach to law enforcement that prefers rehabilitation to incarceration.
“The Dutch have a deeply ingrained pragmatism when it comes to regulating law and order,” said René van Swaaningen, professor of criminology at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam, noting the country’s relatively liberal approach to “soft” drugs and prostitution. “Prisons are very expensive. Unlike the United States, where people tend to focus on the moral arguments for imprisonment, the Netherlands is more focused on what works and what is effective.”
Recorded crime has shrunk by about a quarter over the past nine years, according to the country’s national statistics office, and that is expected to translate into a surplus of 3,000 prison cells by 2021. The government has shuttered 19 of nearly 60 prisons over the past three years, and a government report leaked last year suggested that more cuts were coming.