Dutch Prison Systems Cut Jail Population, Transform Buildings into Schools

  • 06th May 2022

Dear Diary,

The Netherlands does not have enough prisoners to fill its prisons. Indeed, it even rents out the unused prison cells to Norway, Belgium.

The country has reduced its prison population to such an extent that it is using old prison buildings as schools and refugee areas.

What is happening?

In December 2019, The Guardian’s story “Why are there so few prisoners in the Netherlands?” said that the Netherlands shut down 23 prisons between 2014 and 2019, converting them into hotels, housing, or temporary asylum centers.

The Netherlands’ prison system, unlike most others, encourages psychological rehabilitation opportunities through the TBS institution. It is a program meant for people who have committed serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter, and assault.

What went right?

The Netherlands had been struggling to meet the growing demands of educational spaces for students.

To meet these requirements, they used an old prison chapel and gave it to the British School of Amsterdam. Formerly known as De Koepel Prison, the building was converted to provide students accommodation and social housing.

The incarceration rate per capita of the Netherlands is half that of the UK, and the Netherlands has reported a decline in its crime rates.

Prisoners can access the skills and networks they need to rebuild their careers. The prisons are designed to focus on the offenders’ strengths and talents and provide a space to correct their issues and take positive steps.

Repurposed Dutch prisons

Three Dutch prisons are now repurposed and transformed in varied ways:

  • The hotel and restaurant: The old state prison of Roermond (1863- 2007) has been converted into a hotel named Hotel Het Arresthuis and a restaurant named Damianz.

  • Business center and library: The old Blokhuispoort Prison in Leeuwarden is now a business center and a library. The business center is designed to boost investments in low GDP provinces nationally. Additionally, the building has a hotel named the Alibi Hotel that provides affordable accommodation.

  • The escape games: Below the Boschpoort Panopticon Prison, a space lets people enjoy escape experiences through games. Other areas of the prison building have been rebranded as FutureDome, a space meant as a meeting center for autistic people, a temporary housing space, and a pop-up theatre.

How is the Netherlands setting example?

According to World Prison Brief, there are 61 prisoners per 100,000 people in the Netherlands. On the other hand, the US has 10 times more than that figure – the highest in the world.

The innovative programs in Dutch prisons are designed to lower the rate of recidivism. A non-profit organization named Prison Care Netherlands works at making sure the prisoners are engaging in meaningful work while continuing their sentences.

The inmates take part in future employers’ projects and work outside the premises. They return to cook and do household chores with other inmates.

Researchers claim that the following are a few reasons why the prison program in the Netherlands is proving to be beneficial.

  • Humane treatment of inmates

  • Prisoners are encouraged to keep in touch with family

  • Prisoners attend therapeutic sessions to share the impacts of their offense on their lives

  • Prisoners are allowed to work as dignified citizens

  • Access to books and educational institutions to further enhance skills

Their approach to tackling the issue of an offense is to attack the problem and not the person. The system believes that detentions accompanied by mandatory therapy are a better alternative to simplistic, long-term punishments.


It is encouraging to know that the Netherlands can propagate its idea of an alternative rehabilitation system.

An admirable thing about the system is that the country is setting an example by following a protocol and its rate of prisoners is decreasing.

We wish for more countries to adopt the idea and make this world a much safer place to live.

That’s all I have for now,

I will write to you soon.

Take care!