Earlier this week we wrote about the criminal justice nonprofit, Vera, which is teaming up with Google to create detailed, transparent data on prisoners. Policymakers have no access to such data, so the idea is that it will help them make more informed decisions to shape the country’s flawed justice system. Better data will certainly help, but a trip to the Netherlands might provide an even better perspective for policy reformation.
Since 2014, the Netherlands has closed 23 prisons, turning some into temporary asylum centers, housing, and hotels. Why? Because the Netherlands doesn’t have enough prisoners to fill all these jail cells thanks to a growing tendency to avoid jailing people unless it is necessary.
One key aspect of this is a prodigious program of care in the community for people with psychiatric problems. The first order of business within this program is to prevent people with a record from committing another crime. Next, the program focuses on reducing psychiatric suffering and the social problems that come with it. The Netherlands also has many outreach workers who check-up with former inmates or people with psychiatric issues.
With a focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment, the Netherlands is able to keep the number of prisoners as low as possible. This is something the US can certainly learn from.