Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
on a regular basis, every year
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
Variation in the number of prisoners
decrease by 3.6%
In 2016, there were 10,115 prisoners.1
The Dutch prison population has steadily declined over the past decade. The incarceration rate fell from 125 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006 to 54 in 2018. This represents a decrease of more than 50%. The main reasons for this downward trend are: a decrease in the crime rate, changes in criminal policy and an increase in non-custodial sentences.
Number of admissions
Average length of imprisonment (in months)
Variation in the average length of imprisonment
Variation in the prison density
increased by 13.9%
As of 1 September 2016, the distribution of inmates according to the length of their sentence was as follows1:
- less than 1 month: 488
- 1 to 3 months: 466
- 3 to 6 months: 352
- 6 months to 1 year: 546
- 1 to 3 years: 1,241
- 3 to 5 years: 476
- 5 to 10 years: 572
- 10 to 20 years: 419
- 20 years and over: 46
- life sentences: 31
Council of Europe, “Annual Penal Statistics. Space I - Prison Populations Survey 2016”, 2017, p.88. ↩
Overcrowding is an issue for specific types of prison facilities
no overpopulation observed
Name of authority in charge of the prison service
Ministry of Justice and Security
The Custodial Institutions Agency (Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen, DJI), under the Ministry of Justice and Security, fulfils the function of the prison service.
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
The Ministry of Justice funds the five juvenile facilities. Four of them are managed by private organisations.
Zaanstad prison was built by the Ballast Nedam Group. Maintenance of the facility has also been outsourced to the group for a 25-year period. The total cost of the contract amounts to 300 million euros.
The Custodial Institutions Agency (Dienst Justitiële Inrichtingen, DJI) manages prison facilities. Its headquarters are located in The Hague. Juvenile facilities, high-security psychiatric hospitals, and immigration detention centres also fall under its authority.
The overseas territories of the Dutch Caribbean are subject to varying systems. Bonaire is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The DJI is responsible for its sole correctional facility. Curaçao, a semi-independent state, is supported by the DJI. Aruba is an independent state. Its government manages the island’s prison.
Article 13, paragraph 1 of the Penitentiaire beginselenwet (PBW), Penitentiary Principles Act classes facilities according to their security level:
- very high security (extra beveiligd)
- high security (beperkt beveiligd)
- standard security (normaal beveiligd)
Since 2010, reduced-security and low-security prisons (beperkt and zeer beperkt beveiligd) are gradually being closed since the conservative VVD party took office. In 2016, a bill to permanently abolish these types of facilities was submitted to parliament (Kamerstukken II 2015/16 33 844 No. 7 p.1). It was rejected. As a result, a number of these facilities remain, including Nieuwersluis women’s prison in Utrecht.
In March 2014, the Netherlands introduced a grading system (Rechtsburgerschap). This new system followed the announcement of budget cuts in 2013.1 Inmates are now allocated to two different schemes: the “basic scheme” and the “improved scheme” (Plusprogramma). Each inmate is placed on the basic scheme on arrival. In order to benefit from the improved scheme, inmates must demonstrate good conduct and show “motivation for reintegration”. Prisoners under the improved scheme are entitled to:
five extra hours of out-of-cell activities each week (this is in addition to the 43 hours accorded on the basic scheme)
one extra hour of visiting time (in addition to the one hour per week allowed on the basic scheme)
preparation for release2
The semi-open facilities in Dordrecht, Heerhugowaard, Zaandam and Arnhem are reserved for prisoners on the improved scheme. Prisoners are given a key to their cell. They may move around the prison freely until 9.30 pm.
Jacobs, P., « The Development Rechtsburgerschap of Prisoners: A National and European Perspective », 2015, p.390. ↩
Van Ginneken E., Hanneke Palmen A., Nieuwbeerta P., Berghuis M., “The Life in Custody Study : The quality of prison life in Dutch prison regime”, Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology of Leiden University, 2018, p.5 ↩
The different types of facilities are:
- Remand centres (Huis van bewaring) for pre-trial detention or serving short-term sentences.
- Prisons for serving longer sentences (Gevangenis).
- Juvenile detention centres (Justitiële jeugdinrichting) for young people aged between 12 and 18 at the time of their offence. They may stay there until the age of 23.
Total number of prison facilities
Budget cuts announced by the government in 2013 led to the closure of 29 out of the 59 penal institutions in the country (figures from 2018).
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
Variation in the capacity of the prison facilities
increased by 6.5%
The smallest facility is Almelo de Karelkamps. It is located in Overjissel and has capacity for 250 prisoners.
The largest facility is in Zaanstad. It is located near Amsterdam and has capacity for 1,040 prisoners.
Most facilities are located in the west of the country, where the majority of the population is concentrated.
Owing to lack of space, the service is forced to transfer inmates to the east of the country. Family ties are affected by this.
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
The decrease in the prisoner population has led to prisons being underoccupied. Accordingly, the government has decided to close a number of them. As a result, the number of prisoners sharing their cell with another prisoner has increased.1
Owing to the under-occupation of its prisons, in 2010, the Netherlands began letting out a number of its prisons to other countries.
In 2010, Belgium began renting Tilburg prison. Up to 650 inmates were placed there. In return, Belgium paid the Dutch government 30 million euros per year. In 2016, the Belgian government announced the end of the contract. The project was considered a failure (see Belgium country profile 2018).
In 2015, Norway began its lease of the Norgerhaven prison in Veenhuizen, which has a total capacity for 242 inmates. The contract expired in 2018 and was not renewed.
Van Ginneken E., Hanneke Palmen A., Nieuwbeerta P., Berghuis M., “The Life in Custody Study : The quality of prison life in Dutch prison regime “, Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology of Leiden University, 2018, p. 5. ↩
Number of prison guards (FTE)
Guard to prisoner ratio
1 : 1.9
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
Percentage of socio-educational workers in relation to the entire prison staff
The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)
FNV Overheid is the largest union for prison staff.
Prison staff have the right to strike. They may also organise an elected works council (Ondernemingsraad). The unions are involved in the council.1
European Federation of Public Service Unions, “Prison Staff Perspectives. An EPSU survey of the impact of the economic crisis on prisons”, p.22. ↩
Prison officers are required to undergo three years of training. Candidates must have at least successfully completed vocational training (middelbaar beroepsonderwijs) to be admitted.
Prison staff working in the units for prisoners accused and convicted of terrorism-related offences receive additional training and a higher salary.
Staff salaries are in line with the cost of living and living conditions.
The base salary for a junior officer is 40,000 euros per year. Their position offers various benefits such as free public transport and increased hourly rates for overtime or irregular working hours.
Salaries are determined by the collective agreements applicable to government civil servants1.
European Federation of Public Service Unions, “Prison Staff Perspectives. An EPSU survey of the impact of the economic crisis on prisons”, p.21 ↩
The budgetary decisions announced by the government in 2013 had an impact on staff numbers. In 2015, nearly 6,400 posts out of a total workforce of 12,300 were cut. The reduction amounted to 52.7% over three years. The decrease in the number of inmates has improved the officer to prisoner ratio. It fell from 1.6 in 2008 to 1.5 in 2015.1
According to a survey conducted by researchers at Leiden University in 2017, the relationship between staff and inmates remains “*favourable and fair, with a discernible positive impact on the well-being, behaviour and even outcomes of inmates after their release”.2
European Federation of Public Service Unions, “Prison Staff Perspectives. An EPSU survey of the impact of the economic crisis on prisons”, p.10. ↩
van Ginneken E., Hanneke Palmen A., Nieuwbeerta P., Berghuis M., “The Life in Custody Study : The quality of prison life in Dutch prison regime “, Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology of Leiden University, 2018, p.8. ↩