When did prisons turn into holiday camps?

I ask, because every few weeks there appears in the local Dutch press some article about the penal system in the Netherlands that just makes my mine boggle and, I might add, usually results in coffee being spat onto my computer screen as I try to comprehend the stupidity that is the Dutch Prison Service and the people who are responsible for running it.

Let me elucidate and expound a little more. For a start, convicted prisoners in the Netherlands typically live in single bed cells. The do not need to share their cell with other prisoners, and they can get Cable TV piped directly into their cells if they want. It used to be a point of fact that every prisoner had Cable TV, but in an effort to save money, the Dutch government decided that they could no longer foot the bill and now if a prisoner wants Cable in his cell, he has to pay for it himself.

Then there is the prison “shop”. Yes indeed, apart from the money sent to inmates by family members on the outside, prisoners in the Netherlands receive an allowance, which can then be used to buy the little luxuries in life, you know, stuff like sushi, sake, sweets, the obligatory cigarettes, DVD’s, even the odd few cans of beer! My goodness, how civilised. A recent article that made it into the British press spoke about how British prisoners convicted of drug related crimes described how they would hold “parties” in their cells at the weekend. Well, I guess they’re entitled to make the most of their time “inside”.

There are also an abundance of services that the prisoners enjoy. In a country that forces its citizens to pay mandatory health insurance, for a really shitty healthcare system in return, Dutch prisoners enjoy free healthcare and dental treatment provided by on-staff doctors and outside Dentists and Dental Technicians…all paid for out of my taxes. Meanwhile, I have to put up with Urologists telling me that if I “pee sitting down for a month” that this should help get my wife pregnant.

A new “service” that recently came to light are the opportunities for convicted criminals to enjoy the carnal delights of life. This article writes of how a convicted rapist who is serving four years in a psychiatric prison has been allowed to use a spare room in the prison to have sex with his girlfriend. The man is in a relationship with an older worker at another psychiatric prison where he spent time, and is said to be ‘hypersexual’. The man was convicted of the sexual abuse and rape of eight young girls, although police had received complaints from 35, the paper says.

Of course, there is another quirk of the Dutch penal system, which I have to confess, is probably my favourite quirk of all. The concept of “day release”. Yes indeed folks, you are found guilty of rape, or human trafficking, and then convicted to serve several years behind bars. But because the Dutch have your best interests at heart and think that staying that long in prison might be a little too harsh on you, they came up with the concept of letting prisoners out for the day. Some are even let out for an entire weekend so they can go home and spend time with their families. In most cases, the day release prisoners are under the supervision of guards. But there have been cases where the prisoners were allowed out for entire weekends unguarded and unsupervised. And the wardens fully expected the prisoners to return to the prison voluntarily….kind of like the “honours system” they have in place here for paying your fare on the trams and metros….and guess how many people travel without buying a ticket? So you can imagine how many prisoners leave, and never return.

There was a famous case recently where a notorious convicted human trafficker, a Turk by the name of Saban Baran, escaped from custody after being allowed prison leave to visit his new baby. Baran was appealing against a seven and a half year jail sentence for forcing over 100 women into prostitution, when he was allowed home, and disappeared in September 2010. It was believed that he skipped the country and fled to Turkey.

Thankfully the authorities in Turkey caught him five months later. They arrested him in Turkey on charges of blackmail and money laundering. Turkey does not extradite its own nationals, but according to Dutch media Baran may be forced to sit out his sentence in a Turkish jail. Maybe they’ll do a better job than the Dutch at keeping his ass in prison.

Of course, “day release” is not the only option open to prisoners in the Netherlands. There is also the option of psychiatric leave available to them, or the more daring might like to try their hand at walking out with the visitors. I still have not been able to find out what happened (if anything) to the prison guards or the wardens after their clear lack of attention and negligent performance of their duties resulted in them losing a prisoner. But if the rest of Dutch society is anything to go by, they will most likely get a slap on the wrist and not be held accountable for their actions…they’ll just blame somebody else, most likely the prisoner.

It is comforting to know, however, that those who do decide to go AWOL have their leave privileges suspended for a year. Now, say that out loud to yourself, and just let the absurdity of such a concept ring in your ears. What ever happened to the days bread and water, back breaking hard labour, one blanket and multiple prisoners to a cell? The press is full of these civil liberties lefty liberals spouting on about prison over-crowding and prisoner rights. First of all, the issue of “over-crowding” is all relevant. If they are running out of one bedroom cells, then yes, it’s over crowded….but stick them into four to a room, I say. They gave up their rights when the broke the law. As the old saying goes, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”. What I would like to know is why they still think prisoners have rights when they have been found guilty of committing a crime and of causing harm to the normal law-abiding citizens of a country. Christ knows that the Dutch spout on and on about how us foreigners need to conform to their laws, culture, traditions and language….yet if you commit a crime, it’s OK, you’ll get an all expenses paid vacation in a Dutch holiday camp.

Well, I need to go an pay my parking fines 🙂

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