This week, both Dutch and international press are writing about a new initiative in Dutch prisons: inmates received the key to their own cell. The initiative is carried out in Arhnem, and has been met with critique and worries from prison staff.
With the aim of increasing prisoners’ self-reliance, prisoners receive ownership of their cell’s key during the day. Moreover, the Ministry of Justice reportedly hopes this will increase staff-prisoner relationships. Some staff nonetheless perceive this policy merely as a budget cut, as less staff is required to guide prisoners’ moves throughout the prison. The increased freedom of movement is met with concerned by the lack of control over prisoners’ whereabouts.
New prison policy increasing self-reliance is a good idea (read more about self-reliant prisoners in my blog post about Bastøy Prison), however with the right intend. In addition to autonomy, relationships are an important part of rehabilitation. Self-reliance is not an end in itself, but a way to develop trust and skills of self-constraint. This initiative seems only to provide a first step, possibly aimed at budget cuts, but missing out on developing other measures necessary to achieve a result in prisoners’ behaviour.