As per 1 July 2021, the Law on Punishment and Protection partially entered into force. This law has consequences for detainees and victims, next of kin and other relevant persons who believe that they should be equated with victims.
The law regulates the limitation of conditional release: if one received a custodial sentence of 30 years, he or she was eligible for conditional release after 20 years. With the new Law on Punishment and Protection however, this conditional release is limited to two years, meaning that with a custodial sentence of 30 years one is now eligible for a conditional release after 28 years.
The Law has also stipulated that when making decisions about granting liberties and possibilities to detainees, like reintegration leave or eligibility for a penitentiary program or conditional release, the following aspects must explicitly be taken into account:
- The behavior of detainees during detention,
- The risk for society when granting liberties to offenders,
- The protection needs and other interests of victims, surviving relatives and other relevant persons (such as children, witnesses but also legal persons).
Protection of victims
In this article we focus on the third point. The “what” is clear: the need for protection and other interests should be seriously considered. The “how” – we will specify this here. Informing and consulting victims, next of kin and other relevant persons, that is what should be done. For years this has been done on a limited scale only (mostly for offenses in which victims have the right to speak) by employees of the Public Prosecution Service who work at the “Informatiepunt Detentie Verloop” IDV (information point on the course and progress of a detention, red.).
On 25th August 2021 the Minister of Legal Protection has expressed the intention that all information and consultation tasks, performed during the execution or implementation phase, should be executed directly under the Minister’s own responsibility.
Already as per July last year the CJIB (Judicial Debt Collection Agency, red.) has been working together with the Public Prosecution Service and IDV in a partnership set up for this purpose, to inform and consult victims and other relevant people involved. The aim is to take their interests into account during the decision process regarding conditional release and placement of detainees in a care institution, based on of Article 43.4 of the Penitentiary Principles Act (PBW).
As per 1st December2021, decisions about participation in a Penitentiary Program (PP) have been added to this, and decisions about granting reintegration leave will be added in the course of 2022. With the implementation of this last aspect, the Law on Punishment and Protection has been fully implemented.
In total this concerns thousands of decisions in which the three aforementioned issues must be taken into account: the behaviour of detainees, the risk for society and the interests of victims. This is a major operation with a big impact on the executing organizations in the criminal justice chain such as the Custodial Institutions Agency, the Probation organizations, the Public Prosecution Service and the CJIB.
How is CJIB going to consult and inform victims, next of kin and other relevant persons? They will try to specify this here, without pretending to be able to tell everything as it is all work in progress.
They have put together some important principles for the communication between Government and Citizens: “We want to be a committed, empathetic government and, as much as possible, allow citizens to be in control of their own actions. A government that is well aware of having to deal with many vulnerable citizens, citizens who have experienced a profound, traumatic experience in their lives or in that of their loved ones.”
In order to take these principles into account, Victim Support Netherlands and the Federation of Victims of Violent Crimes were asked for their advice when setting up a work organization concerning this topic. The answers these organizations gave mainly referred to the importance of how to treat people (in a personal way, respectful, timely, all inclusive, tailor-made).
The CJIB is now setting up a work organization in which both digital means, written means, telephone and face-to-face contact will be used for communication. The organization thinks that the latter should only be necessary in exceptional cases like media-sensitive or politically sensitive cases, cases that had a big impact on society and cases that require a personal approach, in line with the need.
Much of this work is customized and tailor-made. This requires knowledge, skills and experience from the involved professionals in order to be able to work in a safe and person-oriented manner. The CJIB is paying attention to that and in the meantime the first experiences are being realized – experiences that they would very much like to share with the CEP network at a later stage, in order to learn from each other and to invest in (future) best practices.