Collect dirt on the street, clear trees in the woods, remove graffiti in the sports club or pack in the food bank. Every year, about 30,000 people are sentenced to community service. They have, for example, been guilty of theft, assault, fraud or drug trafficking and must, as punishment, work unpaid under the supervision of the Dutch penitentiary.
Community service lovers point out that recidivism among convicts with community service is 47 percent lower than among people who receive a (short) prison sentence. A community service program is also half the price for the state than a prison sentence. However, not everyone runs away from community service in the political Hague. Following the introduction of a community service ban for, among other things, serious sexual crimes and violent crimes in 2012, the Senate is now considering extending that ban to include violence against aid workers.
Director Johan Bac from the Dutch probation service sees “nothing good” in the ban on community service. If it is up to him, even more convicts will stand for community service in the future. On the eve of a debate in the House of Representatives in the Judiciary Committee, he argues under the guise of ‘smarter punishment’ for a fundamental debate on and adjustment of the Dutch sanctions system. An important part: Increasing the current maximum sentence from 240 hours of community service to 480 hours in combination with the introduction of a learning sentence, which Bac describes as ‘training, guidance and learning’.
What’s really smart about it?
“About 75 percent of all prison sentences are shorter than three months. These short detentions do more harm than you want because people lose their jobs or homes and then make the mistake again when they are released. I think we need to keep these convicts briefly in society while they are being punished, for example by handing out more community service orders and reintroducing the learning punishment. These types of criminals often have all sorts of problems. If you also sentence them to a learning sentence in addition to a community service order and, for example, make them obliged to take a diploma or go to debt counseling, then there will be less recidivism and society will be safer. ”
Also read this opinion article: The Chamber can not deprive the criminal court of community service
A training sentence can already be handed down by the court, right?
»Until 2012, the education judgment was part of the community service executive order. At present, it can only be made as a special condition for a conditional sentence. In practice, it is now seen that only suspects with serious problems receive educational sentences. On the contrary, I want the education sentence to become more common among relatively normal convicts who need one last push to end up in the job market. Think of someone who needs an education to be able to drive a forklift or talk to a trainer to get out of debt. We see that convicts need this while supervising the inmates. “
Do you think that the perpetrators of more serious crime should also have community service? The group, which has now been sentenced to three months in prison, consists partly of persons whom the judge believes cannot be punished with 240 hours of community service.
“Serious crimes include imprisonment. There is a category where imprisonment is simply necessary. If the judge classifies a case as serious and sentences him to prison, for example because someone has been beaten and incurs serious injuries, it is a legitimate consideration. I will do not interfere at all. I just want the judge to have a fully equipped toolbox to make that decision. By increasing the maximum number of hours of community service and adding training, coaching and learning, the judge has more room to see this as a serious alternative to a prison sentence of several months. “
Do you want convicts to have 480 hours of community service in the future?
“No, I am in favor of that increase so that a combination of community service and an apprenticeship becomes possible. Exactly what it will look like must be seen in politics. All sorts of variations are conceivable, for example, working two-thirds of the time and learning one-third. I can imagine that the politicians will increase the maximum number of hours of community service to make it a serious alternative to short-term detention. “
Is not the consequence of your prayer that you create more work for your own organization?
“If more frequent and longer community service is provided in the future, it can certainly lead to more work for the penitentiary. Additional resources are also required for this. But that is not why we are in favor of this, we really believe that smarter punishment is more effective: it leads to less recidivism, is cheaper and also has positive side effects. If people find a job through it, they no longer need services and they flow out into the tight labor market. ”
With regard to the extension of the ban on community service, the Minister stresses the importance of imprisonment because of the retaliation for the crime. Is your proposal not coming at an unfortunate political time?
“In my optics, community service is also retaliation. A convict literally goes to work for 240 hours or maybe 300 hours in the future. It is the ultimate retaliation: such a person does not sit on the ass in a cell, but works and gives back to society. ”
Why are you calling for a bigger debate on the sanctions system?
“Twenty years ago, community service was introduced as the main judgment, and we have not had such a basic debate since. Society has changed a lot. There is less crime but more serious crime due to serious crime and subversion. There are now cybercriminals. It raises questions about whether we are still punishing in the right way. I think we should reconsider with experts, politicians and citizens what we consider appropriate punishments. For us, serious alternatives to short prison sentences such as community service, ankle bracelets and electronic detention play an important role here. “