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Source: Government of the Netherlands

On Tuesday, the Upper House of Parliament approved the legislative proposal for the Sanctions and Protection Act (Wet Straffen en Beschermen). In future, perpetrators of serious crimes will no longer be discharged on conditional release automatically after having served two thirds of their sentence. The maximum term of this conditional release will be reduced from ten years to two. Another change is that conditional release will no longer enter into effect by operation of law. Instead, the Public Prosecution Service will decide whether each individual detainee is already eligible for conditional release. To make this decision, factors are taken into consideration such as the detainee’s behaviour, the interests of victims and the danger to society.

Detainees who have committed a serious crime and who are currently sentenced to 24 years in prison are generally released after only 16 years. While the proper application of conditional release takes time, this period should not necessarily last up to ten years. The current situation, in which the length of conditional release increases with the punishment, is slated to change. From now on, this Act will stipulate a two-year maximum for conditional release.

Sander Dekker, Minister for Legal Protection:

 ‘It undermines our sense of justice if criminals are released from prison eight years before the end of their punishment. We must change this rule, which harms the credibility of punishments. You do the crime, you do the time.’

Increased impact of detainee’s behaviour

The changes not just affect the end of the prison sentence, but release will also become more binding and less automatic. Detainees will only be eligible for release in case of proper conduct. A lack of dedication will put their chance of release at risk. If detainees misbehave, the Public Prosecution Service may also decide to postpone their conditional release. By contrast, proper conduct will be rewarded not just with leave and conditional release, but also with privileges such as a greater choice of work and leisure activities. This measure will increase the impact of prison behaviour.

Safer return for better protection

Many detainees currently fail to mend their ways sufficiently during their sentence. This Act has detainees focus actively on their rehabilitation from their first day in prison. While it requires more responsibility on their own part, detainees will also receive more support in future. They will be assisted with debt restructuring, accommodation, work, care and an identity document. Research shows that former convicts re-offend less often on release if all these matters have been arranged. Both the Probation Service and the municipalities play an active part in their safe return. The present Act will facilitate the mutual exchange of information. This process will ensure that the punishment serves to prevent recidivism and protect society as best we can.

‘If a person is put behind bars, we should make the most of this period. No longer will we sit back and relax until time is served. From the first day in prison, the new motto will be: Serving time is serving society’,

said Minister Dekker.

The Act is expected to come into force on 1 May 2021.

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