Some problems are good ones to have. After facing a shortage of prison cells in the ’90s, Holland is now running out of criminals. Last week, the Justice Ministry announced a plan to close eight prisons because a declining crime rate has left nearly 2,000 cells empty. The ministry currently has a capacity to house 14,000 adult prisoners, but only has 12,000 detainees. Meanwhile, Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak has told the Dutch parliament that the ministry estimates the decline in crime rates will continue for some time. (According to the International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the Netherlands housed a total of over 20,000 inmates, including juveniles and illegal aliens, in 2004. In 2007 the number fell to close to 18,000.)
Not everyone is pleased, since the closures will also see 1,200 jobs slashed. Both the right-wing Dutch Freedom Party and left-wing Socialist Party oppose the job cuts and dispute the idea of a prison overcapacity—and say they would like to see more criminals spend time in jail. But Albayrak maintains the plan will proceed, although she has said the unions representing workers in the prison system will be consulted (according to some reports the government could save over $258 million by shutting down the prisons).
Some respite for the prison workers could come through a deal worth almost $47 million to temporarily place 500 criminals from neighbouring Belgium behind Dutch bars (Belgium is currently facing a shortage of over 1,500 cells, as incidents of low-level street crime such as pickpocketing is on the rise). Albayrak has confirmed that both countries are working to possibly transfer the prisoners to the Tilburg prison by 2010, and has also reportedly expressed her interest in renovating Dutch prisons to help Cyprus deal with its illegal immigration problems and political asylum seekers.