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POSTED: 05/29/12 1:20 PM

The realization that the parliament took article 28 out of the criminal code has not sunk in yet within the local legal community, but the first reactions we picked up radiated sheer astonishment.
Article 28 would have offered convicts with a life sentence a review of their situation after 20 years and – in case such a review does not lead to either a mitigation of the sentence or an early release, additional reviews every five years.
It is not like the article would give lifers the right to early release, but this is how it was perceived in the parliament last week. At the suggestion of Justice Minister Roland Duncan MPs jumped on the bandwagon like they could not be fast enough to exclaim their support.
Of course, article 28 did not end up in the draft legislation just like that. It has been floating around for years, so much so that one of the Criminal Code’s architects, prof. Hans de Doelder, promoted it as an example for Dutch politicians to look at as far back as August 2008.
De Doelder now declines to comment on the parliament’s decision to ditch the article, but he must feel that St. Maarten somehow murdered his baby.
After all, article 28 was not designed to give lifers a free ticket to freedom after 20 years – not at all. The interests of victims and their next of kin should be taken into account at all times, De Doelder professed in 2008.
But the parliament in Philipsburg did not give that consideration any thought. With the Justice Minister, who feels that all criminals should serve their complete sentence, the MPs jumped on the opportunity to show that they are tough on crime.
They’re not out of Dodge with this one though – at least, not yet. Back in 2008, De Doelder indicated in an opinion piece in the national daily Trouw that a periodical review of life sentences is in line with the approach of the European Human Rights court. This court, de Doelder and his co-author Verbaan noted, considers there periodical reviews necessary.
Readers will not get from this newspaper that convicts with a life sentence do not deserve everything they are getting from the criminal justice system. A life sentence is not given lightheartedly.
Taking the review option away though, will throw these lifers into an existence without perspective. Their goose is cooked: they will spend the rest of their life behind bars and never get out – even if they get religion (in the figurative meaning) and truly change behind the prison walls.
So this will make lifers potentially extremely dangerous, because they have absolutely nothing to lose. This means that the tension in prison will go up, and that prison guards are unnecessarily put into additional danger. These lifers could affect management within the prison negatively, and God knows that our prison management has already enough trouble to keep things under control the way they are now.
It is a pity that there was not a single parliamentarian who brought up at least these considerations before the decision to drop article 28 was almost unceremoniously taken. It surely is one of those issues that will be challenged in court. Only then will we learn the true impact of the parliament’s decision.

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