The Netherlands has empty jails because we can’t afford to throw people in jail anymore

A news story is circulating in the global media today, about the empty jails in the Netherlands. Supposedly we have a lack of crime and now have to close prisons due to a lack of prisoners.

In reality, the problem here is that it’s simply too expensive to throw people in jail. Housing someone in a Dutch prison costs 200 euro per day. That’s 73,000 Euro per year. Simply letting these people wander outside is a relatively easy way to cut costs.

Similarly, we don’t have a lack of crime in the Netherlands. The number of murders lies at around three times the level of 1965. Instead, the main problem we face is that most crimes are never solved. The rate of burglaries that are solved lies at seven percent, down from 8.6 percent earlier.

Out of all those crimes that are genuinely solved, a big share of criminals doesn’t end up in jail, simply because the police can’t find them. In September 2014, the Netherlands had a total of 10,365 prisoners. This number is easily eclipsed however, by the number of criminals supposed to be serving a sentence, who are still unaccounted for.

It was estimated in 2015 that the Netherlands has roughly 10,000 people who are supposed to be serving a jail sentence, who the police simply aren’t looking for, because it does not receive a high priority. If the police were to stumble upon them by accident they might end up in jail to serve their sentence, so all they have to do in practice is avoid doing anything that might draw attention. In addition to this figure, there are 2.843 people the police is actively looking for, because they’re supposed to be in jail.

To conclude, it’s easy to misinterpret the Netherlands crime figures. Our jails are not empty because we have no crime. They’re empty because we can’t afford to punish crime.


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