The Netherlands is suffering an unusual crime problem: there is too little of it to fill prisons.

Figures from the Dutch Ministry of Justice suggest overall crime will drop by 0.9 per cent a year in the next five years.

Since a third of its 13,500 prison cells are unfilled, this means five prisons will close, and the prison workers' union fears 1900 jobs will be lost, while 700 staff could become "mobile", based in more than one location.

"More than a third of cells are not used, and the predictions are that it is going to get worse," said a spokesman for the ministry. "Obviously, from a social perspective, it is better because crime is down, but if you work in jails, it is not good news."


The Netherlands has "leased" places in jail to Belgium and Norway, so around 300 Belgian criminals have been held at His Dutch Majesty's pleasure in Tilberg prison, while 240 Norwegian convicts will take up residence at Norgerhaven jail over the next three years.
Karl Hillesland, Dutch prisons' director, told the country's broadcaster RTV Drenthe last month that there is even a "small waiting list", partly due to the success of promotional films shown in Norway.

Everything happens in English, and Hillesland added: "The basic values and what we mean about how a sentence should be served is about the same."

The fall in prison sentences is attributed to an older population - less likely to commit crime - and a steep decline in violent offences. Recently there has also been a focus on not prosecuting victimless crime and on rehabilitation: shorter sentences, more electronic tagging, programmes on job skills and re-entering the community. One notorious Dutch prison, Het Arresthuis in Roermond, near the German border, has become a luxury hotel.

However, one Dutch MP, Nine Kooiman, said: "If the Government really worked at catching criminals, we would not have this problem of empty cells."