Government presents vision for imprisonment: ‘Setting prisoners to work’

Prisoners need to work on their safe return to society from day one. The government wants to reduce reversion to crime by already teaching prisoners inside the prison walls to take responsibility for their own actions. That is the essence of the vision for imprisonment “Administering justice, offering opportunities”, which Legal Protection Minister Sander Dekker has submitted to the Lower House. With the measures in this vision, the government aims to implement prison sentences in a more credible manner, heighten the focus on prisoner conduct and consequently reduce the risk of reoffending.

‘We will more emphatically call prison inmates to account for taking responsibility for changing their behaviour. So, they need to get to work. Those who cooperate will be offered opportunities. Those who do not will come away empty-handed. On the other hand, we will also help prisoners who display good conduct to prepare for their safe return to society by, for instance, teaching them skills or enabling them to earn a diploma,’ says Minister Dekker. In order to implement a prison sentence and the crucial post-release period as effectively as possible, the prison system will intensify its collaboration with partners, such as the probation service, healthcare institutions and municipalities. Prison staff will be offered facilities, such as training courses to enable them to more effectively maintain safety inside the prison, to supervise prisoners and to better protect themselves against inappropriate conduct.

Conduct counts

The government expects prisoners to actively get to work from day one in prison to straighten out their lives. This means that working in detention will become more important. Minister Dekker: ‘Working is healthy. It teaches prisoners discipline and instils a work ethic in them. We will also offer them the opportunity to learn new things, which again will stand them in good stead after detention in the future.’ Prisoners can obtain diplomas with the assistance of professional employment agencies located inside prisons. They will also learn new skills, such as learning the Dutch language, or how to prepare for a job interview, and will receive assistance in drawing up their c.v.
Good conduct will be rewarded while bad conduct will be punished. From now on, information from other parties, such as the probation service and municipalities, will be included in the “detention and reintegration plan” that is drawn up for prisoners upon arrival. The plan contains concrete behavioural goals and agreements regarding work, accommodation, debt restructuring and other aspects. This makes it clear to all parties what prisoners need to do and the supervision they need, taking account of the specific options and restrictions applicable to the individual in question. On the other hand, staff working in the prison system will be given more options for taking action against misconduct.
Prisoners will be offered the opportunity to earn liberties so that they can progress from a basic to a plus programme. An improved instrument than that currently used will be made available to assess who is eligible for the programme. The plus programme provides reintegration training courses and prospects of liberties such as leave. General and regime-bound leave will be abolished. Leave will therefore no longer be non-binding in the future. A new form of leave, reintegration leave, will be introduced for this purpose. It is more strongly linked to goals, such as arranging an ID card or working outside the prison walls. Prisoners will be eligible for reintegration only if they undertake efforts for their safe return to society and act responsibly. Dekker: ‘Because of the goal that is linked to leave, prisoners can individually demonstrate that they are willing to change their lives. This will enable them to earn liberties.’
Prisoners who have displayed a change for the better by the end of their sentence may start working outside prison although they will still sleep there. This will take place in a minimum security department that will be rolled out across the Netherlands. Experiences gained in the past on a small scale with this concept have shown that prisoners revert to criminal behaviour to a significantly lesser extent.

Punishment means exactly that

Conduct will also play a larger role in conditional release. At present prison inmates are almost always granted conditional release even if they display misconduct. For this reason conditional release will be more binding and less self-evident. A central focus will be placed on an individual assessment for each prison inmate. Prisoner conduct over a longer period will be the determinative factor in granting conditional release. Along with conduct in prison, the Public Prosecution Service will also consider the risks for, and the interests of victims in its decision.
Furthermore, conditional release for harsh sentences will be shortened. If a prison inmate later becomes eligible for conditional release, the period will be a maximum of two years before the end of their sentence. The two-year period is not an isolated factor; working on behavioural change and reintegration under supervision already begins during detention. If a longer period of supervision is required, there are legal possibilities for facilitating this, such as the extension of the probationary period. The consultation period for the bill on conditional release has now ended and the bill is due to be submitted to the Council of State in the near future.

Safe return

Collaboration with municipalities and other partners, such as volunteers and the probation service, will be increased and intensified to effectuate the safe return of prisoners to society and to reduce recidivism. Measures such as a comprehensive screening procedure upon entering prison will be introduced for this purpose. Furthermore, the presence of the probation service in prisons will be increased to improve collaboration with case managers from the Custodial Institutions Agency (DJI). Pilot programmes in this area have been well received. Volunteers will also be given a more important role, for instance, by supporting the reintegration centre and providing courses. Municipalities will assist in putting the basic conditions in order. In addition, improved agreements will be made on the exchange of information between the probation service, healthcare institutions and municipalities. Consequently, prison inmates will be better prepared for life after a custodial sentence.


Money does not always come into play in the measures set out in “Administering justice, offering opportunities” given that in many cases a different style of working is required. The government will finance a number of measures from the budget allocated to addressing recidivism. This will rise on a structural basis to 20 million euros by 2020. A total of 100 million euros has been released for easing the workload, increasing the safety and the professionalism of staff in the next four years.