Citizens’ initiative advocates the introduction of electronic detention as punishment

To reduce the imposition of short prison sentences in the Netherlands, experts are arguing for the inclusion of electronic detention in the Criminal Code as a possible punishment. A partnership led by Maastricht University and the Dutch Foundation for Restorative Justice is submitting a so-called citizens’ initiative bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Justice and Security and the Minister for Legal Protection this afternoon in The Hague. In the bill, criminal lawyers and criminologists propose the introduction of community service and electronic detention as a substitute for prison sentences.

Short prison sentences

The topic of ‘smarter punishment’ has been on the parliamentary agenda in the Netherlands for some time. In 2022, parliament adopted a motion requesting the cabinet to develop alternatives to short prison sentences. Figures show that approximately 85 per cent of all detainees in the Netherlands serve sentences of less than six months. However, reoffending rates among ex-prisoners are high, as are the costs of imprisonment. Moreover, prison sentences serve little purpose, either for the offender or for the victims and society at large, and given the short duration of many sentences, it is virtually impossible to make the imprisonment meaningful and beneficial. The citizens’ initiative that is submitting a bill today believes there is an urgent need for constructive alternatives to short prison sentences. ‘We are pleased to submit this citizens’ initiative bill to the lower house and the minister,’ says criminologist Gert Jan Slump, affiliated with the Dutch Foundation for Restorative Justice. ‘People in the field of criminal law have been calling for some time for more varied sentencing options, and this bill offers that possibility.'

Electronic detention

One of the key changes advocated by the citizens’ initiative bill is the introduction of electronic detention as an alternative to custodial sentences of up to six months. The Netherlands is one of the few countries in Europe that does not have this criminal sanction. ‘If you look at the reoffending figures, you can only conclude that electronic detention is more effective. The cost is also lower,’ says Jacques Claessen, endowed professor of Restorative Justice and associate professor of Criminal Law at Maastricht University.

‘What’s more, in the context of electronic detention, you can work more easily and effectively on resocialisation and the application of restorative justice, simply because a convicted person remains more part of society. All this equally applies to community service: less reoffending, lower costs, and options for resocialisation and restorative justice. For all these reasons, in our proposal we also argue for community service and electronic detention as substitutes for prison sentences, for example when people fail to pay a fine or to comply with a community service order. These alternatives offer the legislator the possibility to give genuine substance to the idea of “smarter punishment”.’

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