Opinion: Preventive custody

POSTED: 02/15/13 1:49 PM

Remarkably, the Netherlands is struggling with a situation that nibbles at the core of the constitutional state. Philosopher Ab Gietelink tackled the sensitive issue in a column in the Volkskrant. He notes that the number of people in preventive custody without a charge and without a conviction has increased tremendously.

As a philosopher, Gietelink will be forgiven for the fact that convicts are never in preventive custody. That’s the place where you only find characters that have been locked up because there is a serious suspicion against them and who are awaiting trial while investigators complete their work. Convicts go to prison – they have seen a judge and have been sentenced.

Gietelink however wrote that the Netherlands has gone from a progressive nation to being a country with the severest punishments in the western world. Is the Netherlands still a constitutional state? That’s the question our philosopher threw at his readers.

Gietelink notes that the government has taken a number of measures during the past couple of years that have stripped the legal protection of citizens and suspects alike to the extreme. All this under pressure from angry media and an outraged public opinion.

Gietelink says that preventive custody whereby suspects awaiting charges and trial are locked up is morally despicable.

Between 1985 and 2006 the number of inmates in the Netherlands has quadrupled, Gietelink wrote. The number is on average twice as high as in surrounding countries. It’s also expensive: every inmate costs the Dutch state €70,000 ($94.500) per year, or $259 per day.

Here is a point where we agree with the philosopher: a media climate wherein suspects are already sentenced before their trial undermines the constitutional state. Irrational outrage comes into play to the detriment of suspects who later turn out to be innocent.

Gietelink refers to the linesman incident in Almere whereby a linesman at a youth soccer game was beaten to death by young soccer players from Amsterdam. Six of them are still in detention; some of them are charged with manslaughter, but others are behind bars only because they were there. They will only hear next week if they are allowed to go back to school until the trial on May 29,

We’d like to note here that doing nothing while a man is beaten to death is also a form of guilt, but that apparently has not registered with Gietelink.

Another example seems more reasonable: the guy who threw a tea-light at the Golden Carriage carrying Queen Beatrix spent 2 years in preventive custody and walked away in the end with a conviction for just 5 months.

In 2011 the Dutch state paid €22 million (almost $30 million) in damages to 10,000 people who had been locked up without a reason.

Gietelink argues that there are no valid reasons to put young people in preventive custody. Most of them are going to school or they hang on to a job. Most of them live at home so the flight risk is minimal, he wrote. We’d say that age is not the decisive factor for keeping someone in preventive custody – it is the charge, or the serious suspicion investigators have against them.

And there is always the Judge of Instruction to have a second look at the desire by prosecutors to keep someone locked up.

Gietelink pleads for the abolition of most of the preventive custodies, citing heavy criticism from the committee for the rights of the child of the United Nations.

We agree that there is no point to lock up suspects – no matter what their age is – unnecessary – but as far as we are concerned, the buck stops right there.



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