Dutch ponder prison undercrowding
The Dutch government is facing an unusual crisis: Prison undercrowding.
There are now more guards and other staff than prisoners in the Netherlands for the first time, according to data released by the Justice Ministry.
In 2008, there were more than 15,000 inmates, but by March this year there were just 9,710, compared with 9,914 staff.
In the US, that figure is more like one staff member for every five prisoners.
Crime rates have fallen slightly in recent years but are not notably lower in the Netherlands than in neighbouring countries, and many Dutch people think sentences for violent offenders are too light.
Justice Ministry spokesman Jochgem van Opstal said: "We're studying what the reason for the decline is."
The ministry is already carrying out prison closures.
T he number of inmates included 650 Belgian criminals the Netherlands is housing as part of a temporary deal.
The Justice Ministry is shedding 3,500 employees in the closure programme, but labour union Abvakabo FNV has attacked the cuts, saying they were leading to staffing shortages.
Union leader Corrie van Brenk said: "At this moment you can't say there is any safety in Dutch prisons. It's an explosive situation."
The government has rejected the criticism, saying violent incidents in prisons have been declining.
One change politicians are considering is ending a practice of granting probation to criminals once they have served two-thirds of their sentences. That policy has proved an embarrassment for prime minister Mark Rutte.
During his election campaign in 2012, Mr Rutte promised to "fire any justice minister" who granted early release to Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist convicted of murdering politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002.
Van der Graaf will be released on May 2, having served 12 years of his 18-year sentence.