Dekker: end to automatic eligibility for conditional release
To increase society's sense of security and justice, future custodial sentences will actually have to be spent within prison walls to a larger extent. No longer will prisoners be automatically granted conditional release after having served two thirds of their sentence. Their eligibility for conditional release will instead be assessed on a case-by-case basis. To this end, more attention will be paid to a prisoner's conduct in the course of the entire detention period. The duration of the conditional release will additionally be limited to no more than two years. This legislative proposal was sent by Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker to several institutions today, including the Council for the Judiciary and the Public Prosecution Service. The measures are part of the coalition agreement.
‘Long-term prisoners have committed serious crimes. Their frequent release after having served only two thirds of the sentence can be hard to justify towards victims',
says Minister Dekker. This procedure will now be altered by limiting conditional release to no more than two years. All custodial sentences of six years and over will be affected by this measure.
Under the current system, for example, a twelve-year prison sentence often amounts to a mere eight years of detention and subsequently a four-year period of conditional release. By contrast, future prisoners will be detained for the duration of ten years rather than eight. Spending two years outside the institution will suffice to prepare prisoners for reintegration. Long-term prisoners can also use part of their detention to work on their return to society.
'A longer prison sentence does not necessarily equate to a prolonged reintegration track. Everybody should be able to cope with a two-year period',
according to Dekker.
Virtually all long-term prisoners are currently granted conditional release after having served two thirds of their unconditional sentence. However, this process is going to change as well. Future prisoners will no longer be automatically eligible for conditional release. Instead, a critical assessment by the Public Prosecution Service on a case-by-case basis will determine the eligibility and justification for their conditional release. This assessment entails three key aspects. First, prisoners need to have been on their best behaviour during detention. Second, any risks associated with the release must be assessed. Recidivism rates can be reduced through additional conditions and probation supervision. Third, the interests of victims, surviving relatives and others such as witnesses will be weighed. To protect these interests, a prisoner could either be denied release or be issued with an exclusion or restraining order. These three aspects will be assessed before granting an individual prisoner conditional release. The Public Prosecution Service will also ensure strict compliance with the conditions of any such release granted. In case of non-compliance, it will revoke the conditional release.
More attention to conduct
When assessing eligibility for conditional release, more attention will be paid to a prisoner's conduct in the course of the entire detention. As a result, future liberties (conditional release especially) will be affected more by bad behaviour such as aggression towards staff and fellow prisoners or possession of drugs and other contraband. More attention will be paid to conduct already in the earlier stages of the sentence. Prisoners' conduct will continually be assessed to prevent their sentence from seeming inconsequential. Dekker:
'Detention in my view should be a much more active process in which prisoners bear personal responsibility, perform intramural work and focus on their reintegration.'
Through good conduct, prisoners earn the right to work on their reintegration by gradually practising liberties within prison (detention phasing). This practice is anchored to a system of reward and punishment. Longer periods of continual good conduct allow prisoners to move up from the basic to the advanced programme, in which they are offered more internal liberties and activities. Conversely, bad behaviour can mean demotion to the basic programme. Prisoners nearing the end of their detention may also be eligible for external liberties such as reintegration leave and non-custodial work, in order to anticipate their return to society. These prisoners stay the night in a so-called low-security ward and spend their days working outside prison or visiting town hall, whether to obtain an identity card or to arrange living accommodation. They can conclude the enforcement of their sentence through participation in a penitentiary programme (for short sentences) or through conditional release (for longer sentences).