Breaking with the trend of previous governments, ministers are looking into whether judges can impose community service or electronic tagging orders more often for criminal offenders.
In a move seen as politically sensitive, minister for legal protection Franc Weerwind (D66) said in a parliamentary briefing that he is carrying out ‘an exploration’ into alternatives to prison sentences, partly because community service is cheaper. Rutte’s last government decreased the number of community service sentences, with his VVD party the only one voting against a July motion to investigate more community service and also ankle bracelets.
The Council for the Administration of Criminal Justice and Protection of Juveniles (RSJ), which advises the government, argued for ‘more meaningful’ sentences at the end of last year. About three quarters of all detentions last less than three months, it said, while those short prison sentences are ‘not very effective or meaningful’, with a high risk of reoffending.
The RSJ also said short prison sentences have consequences that can be out of proportion to the crimes, such as detainees losing their homes or jobs. ‘The possibilities for behavioural change and reintegration are very limited,’ it said. Weerwind is also examining whether the imposition of electronic tagging can work as an ‘alternative’ to brief prison sentences.
Previous bills on this issue have failed. D66 MP Joost Sneller, who supports the alternatives, says an earlier study suggested people sentenced to community service were 47% less likely to make a new misstep than people sentenced to prison.
‘This is promising for convicts and society,’ Sneller is quoted in the AD as saying. ‘Half of all detentions last less than a month and people are simply less likely to repeat a community service order. In addition, alternative sentences are cheaper, which can help solve the financial problems in the prison system.’
The prohibition of community service came into effect under previous governments, meaning judges hearing cases of violent and sex crimes could no longer impose it. Last year, parliament agreed to extend that ban to include violence against people with a ‘public task’, including police officers and firefighters. It is unclear whether the government wants to reverse this.
Weerwind is also considering re-introducing the ‘learning penalty’, where community service is combined with training, supervision and learning so that an offender, he says, ‘can obtain a diploma, more opportunities can arise on the labour market and the chance of paying compensation to a victim can be increased.’
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