Dutch Indiana Bell Building; Small-scale (detention) facilities for youngsters

Last week, the Dutch newspaper NRC[1] headlined “Five small juvenile prisons started as an experiment and are now virtually empty”. As a result of all kinds of developments in the criminal justice chain for young people, a meeting was held on October 3 in De Balie[2], a cultural debate platform. 

In recent years there has been an interesting movement towards small scale detention facilities in the Netherlands when it comes to juveniles. Almost all professionals in the criminal justice chain agree that they no longer want to send youngsters to prisons. So over the past few years plans have been made to close prisons for juveniles and open five small-scale detention facilities. And no, when the facilities are opened, the youngsters could be placed, things seem to take a turn for the worse. Because few youngsters are referred to these small-scale facilities, so there are empty beds in the small-scale facilities and the prisons for youngsters are overcrowded. What is going wrong? 

The architect, Kurt Vonnegut Sr., proposed in 1929 that an eight-story, steel-framed building be relocated to a brick building, which weighed approximately 11,000 tons. In 1930, the Indiana Bell building was turned 90 degrees while everyone inside was still working, in just one month. However, the preparation and planning before the building was moved took a lot longer. 

The process of turning an institution like ‘prison’ into small-scale facilities takes time and, above all, intensive cooperation between all kinds of parties, which must be worked on years before the small-scale facilities should even be opened. Because how do you set up the new work processes and how do you ensure that everyone is aware of this? And who is in charge of the placement process now and who do you want this to be in the future? Who ultimately decides who can go to what kind of small-scale detention facility and based on what criteria? While a judge has a good view of the entire context, the Individual Affairs Service (DIZ) of the Dutch Custodial (prison) Service (DJI) is now the institution that can make the final decision, instead of the judge. This problem has been going on for years. @DJI- Individual Affairs Service why don’t you leave this decision to the courts as this is an important part of the rule of law? What are your concerns? Talk to the professionals about it instead of blocking change that most of the professionals want in the criminal justice system. The fact that DJI is an executive organization that is dependent on politics does not help either. People are never quite sure whether their pilot, or an already established small-scale detention facility can continue, or for how long.

To turn a system from large-scale to small-scale, a dot on the horizon that everyone agrees to is needed and the courage, support and perseverance of politicians and policymakers. The problem that not all places in the small-scale detention facilities are occupied is not only limited to the youth sector. Also in the small-scale detention facilities for adults, the placement procedure is not obvious, so that more beds are empty than necessary. With RESCALED, the European Movement for Small-Scale Detention Houses, we see this same problem also in other countries, the fear of sharing control with other parties. As long as the placement process does not run smoothly and small-scale detention facilities are not used optimally, closing prisons and opening new small-scale detention houses will be futile effort. Politicians and policymakers will then decide after a few years to close the small-scale facilities and build large prisons again. A trend we have been seeing for decades. What does it take to turn the tide and say goodbye to prisons for juvenile and adults for good?

Who is responsible?

Especially when it comes to short-term detention. In the case of adults this means that 80% of the people in prison, so every year 24000 adults, will no longer go to prison. As a result, at least three-quarters of the prisons can be closed in the long term. Instead, renovation is planned for some large prisons. So who is actually in charge and who is responsible? A small-scale detention facility is an essentially different form of deprivation of liberty. The KVJJ is a form of replacement for the deprivation of liberty for youngsters, which means that security and care can be deployed in a more flexible and tailor-made manner. What is going well in a young person’s life can be preserved and stimulated during the period of deprivation of liberty and afterwards. The final decision should therefore not lie with DIZ but with the judges at the courts. If a final decision cannot be made by the judge at the hearing about where a young person should be placed, there will be uncertainty for all parties involved. If all other parties find the small-scale (detention) facility for Juveniles a suitable place for a youngster and this is simply ignored by DJI-DIZ, then this is the justice system itself that is undermining itself. Then DJI-DIZ clearly indicates that it has no confidence in the other organizations working in the criminal justice sector, like the Child Protection Board, the Probation Service, lawyers, judges, the Small-scale (detention) facilities and the Public Prosecution Service, who all believe that someone can and should go to a small-scale (detention) facility.

The Indiana Bell Building was one of the first buildings in the world to be moved in a month. The stunning way the Indiana Bell building was rotated 90 degrees while in operation says a lot about what good preparation can lead to. However, this was not only dependent on the commitment of a person or company. This required dozens of companies and hundreds of people working towards the same goal, relocating the Indiana Bell building. Now there are several organizations, such as the five small-scale (detention) facilities itself, that are fully prepared for youngsters to be placed in their facilities, but they are largely dependent on other organizations and institutions. Hopefully the dot on the horizon from all parties will remain that we will no longer place youngsters – and adults – in prisons in the near future, but only in small-scale (detention) facilities in situations where restriction of freedom is necessary. We are getting close! 

For more information: www.rescaled.org or email Veronique Aicha veronique.aicha@restorativejustice.nl

[1] https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2022/09/15/kleinschalige-jeugdgevangenis-weinig-gebruikt-a4142058

[2] https://debalie.nl/programma/hoe-word-je-geen-14-jarige-draaideurcrimineel-03-10-2022/