Postponing sentences to relieve prisons “undermines justice”


Plans to ease pressure on prisons by postponing hundreds of sentences for newly convicted criminals risk undermining the justice system, the council for the judiciary has warned.

The chairman of the Raad voor de rechtspraak, Henk Naves, criticised legal protection minister Franc Weerwind for changing the guidelines in the face of staff shortages.

The prison service (DJI) said there were currently not enough available cells for everyone sent to jail by the courts. The prison population in the Netherlands is currently around 9,000.

Weerwind responded by delaying sentences for around 670 so-called “self-reporting” convicts, who are not sent directly from the courthouse to the jail, until the start of March.

In a letter to parliament at the end of November, the minister also said that in future, some people sentenced to less than a year in prison could serve part of their term at home with an ankle bracelet to check they stayed in the house.

Weerwind also said that people who fail to pay fines or carry out community work could also be spared jail in some cases to avoid overburdening the prison system.

Eroding authority

Naves told NRC that the measures risked eroding the authority of the judiciary and compromising the courts’ independence in deciding what sentences to impose.

“Moreover, it can give rise to the idea in society that the sentence passed is not the actual sentence and the reality is more lenient,” he said.

He questioned whether the minister was looking for a way to introduce electronic tagging as an alternative to custody by the back door, after previous attempts to legislate failed. “I think the acute problem of staff shortages is being used to create the required space,” he said.

Naves also warned that changing the rules could lead to injustices, such as setting a threshold for unpaid fines that trigger a spell in prison. “It’s inexplicable why someone whose fine is just too high has to go to jail if they don’t pay, bit someone else with a slightly lower fine doesn’t.”


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