35 Crime & Just. 31 (2007)
The Road to Dystopia - Changes in the Penal Climate of the Netherlands

handle is hein.journals/cjrr35 and id is 41 raw text is: David Downes and RenJ van Swaaningen
The Road to Dystopia?
Changes in the Penal
Climate of the Netherlands
Postwar developments in Dutch penal policy encompass one period of sus-
tained reduction in the scale of imprisonment (1947-74), producing the
most humane penal system in Europe, followed by a second (1975 to date)
in which that trend reversed, producing an imprisonment rate that exceeds
the European average, with adverse consequences for the character of
prison regimes. The causes of the initial period are not self-evident, taking
place while crime was rising, and based on a philosophy of minimizing the
resort to custody. Key elements of that approach continued from 1975 to
the mid-1980s, during a period of sharply rising crime rates. The period
of sustained recarceration after 1985, and its prolongation, into the 1990s
and beyond, entailed a sweeping reconfiguration of penal policy. Manage-
rial, instrumental, and incapacitative measures took precedence over previ-
ous goals of resocialization and restorative justice.
The Netherlands has long been a symbol of hope for penal reform.
Over two centuries ago, John Howard wrote that prisons in the
United Provinces are so quiet and most of them so clean, that a visitor
can hardly believe he is in a gaol (1784, p. 44) The story since then
has been harsher than that conjured by Howard (see Franke [1995] for
the fullest account). As late as 1947, Dutch prisoners were subject to
solitary confinement and could be forced to wear cardboard masks in
association periods.
Since then, a new era of emancipation of prisoners (to use Franke's
term) was ushered in by the 1947 Fick report (Ministerie van Justitie
David Downes is professor emeritus of social policy at the London School of Eco-
nomics. Ren6 van Swaaningen is professor of international and comparative criminology,
Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
© 2007 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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