On Thursday, September 29, 2022, the Maas youth panel organized the fourth NOW TALKS in collaboration with SPACE010 and Music Matters. The young people shine their light on the themes of privilege, power, and violence. Veronique Aicha (national coordinator at Restorative Justice Nederland, the Dutch office of RESCALED) and Leroy van der Hurk (The Rhythmic Poet) started the conversation with the public: are we all powerless or can we influence the system? In addition there was a performance by rapper/singer-songwriter QAQ (talent Music Matters).
Last week, the Dutch newspaper NRC 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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Cycles can be discerned in a person’s life; day and night, winter, spring, summer, autumn. There are also cycles to unravel in society. In 1922 Clara Wichmann was 36 years old and was mainly concerned with changing criminal law. She advocated not detaining people in prisons. One hundred years later, I’m 36 years old and I work for the movement RESCALED that works to replace small-scale detention centers with large prisons. There is exactly a century between us. But when I read her text, it doesn’t feel that way.
The realization that, on the basis of Clara Wichmann’s ideas, we have not succeeded in stopping the construction of large prisons in the hundred years between us, makes me humble. She laid an important criminological foundation with her ideas, both in an ideological sense and in a scientific sense. Yet a hundred years later we see the same patterns: of class society, of the rhetoric of retaliation, and of reducing crime to an act of the individual rather than the result of the organization of society. I therefore do not have the illusion that a radical change in our criminal justice system will take place soon. I do wish, as a society, to treat each other in a more civilized way. And that can be thought through in the legal system by thinking from a circular justice perspective.
Circular justice is a plea for the moral development of society. The legal system should not be intended to establish an individual morality of guilt, but should be an in-between space that is primarily aimed at balancing and, where necessary, restoring the network of political, social and cultural relations through connecting past, present and the future.
Everyone agrees that a person exhibits morally culpable behavior to a greater or lesser extent. But what about acting in and from society? When do we speak of a more or less civilized society? An individual has the responsibility and obligation to justify his behavior. Shouldn’t that also apply to systems we’ve created together? There is too often a gap when it comes to taking responsibility when things go wrong. While the power of moral development lies precisely in the rejection of social habits that are harmful to fellow human beings.
This is how I remember a visit, long ago, to a former prison in Rome. In the Middle Ages, people were imprisoned in a dungeon in too small a space with too many people. The guide said that people had to sleep sitting down because otherwise they would drown in the low water in which they were forced to live. When we look back on this, we find it morally reprehensible. In two hundred years, the writer Arnon Grunberg wrote a few years ago in a footnote to the Volkskrant, we will find our criminal justice system barbaric.
The civilizing process is continuously going on in a business cycle. However, as far as I’m concerned, certain outdated systems, such as prison, may finally be gaining momentum for real change. Let’s take the next step and decide not to put people in large prisons anymore. Let’s recognize our social responsibility in the creation of crime. The result is that we no longer punish people, but that actions have consequences. Consequences for individuals as well as for us as a society. And yes, there may be differences in the way we express these consequences. The concept of circular justice offers plenty of scope for this.
By Veronique Aicha, March 18, 2022
Link naar Nederlandse versie
Autonomy is a fundamental human need. This is also true for incarcerated people. However, when people are detained in a closed setting, they lose a great deal of their autonomy. Their freedom of movement is limited and so is their freedom of choice. Even small things like toilet paper become something they have to ask for. Things that were normal, without ever thinking about them, become suddenly impossible.
Autonomy and self-reliance are two concepts that recur in almost all discussions and stories about detention houses, pilot projects, alternative wards, and experimental regimes that exist or have existed in Dutch prisons. In these discussions, autonomy and self-reliance are considered crucial for incarcerated people’s future perspectives, motivation, and the ability to make the right choices.
RESCALED proposes to implement liberty-deprivation in detention houses instead of prisons. While re-thinking the way in which liberty-deprivation takes place, let us also re-think the way in which people in detention can continue to exercise autonomy. The many small detention houses will differ from each other in terms of security levels, methodologies and working methods, interaction with the neighborhood, and involvement of support networks. This also means that the opportunities for autonomy and self-reliance can be individually-tailored and should only be restricted as far as strictly necessary.
Competence, belonging and autonomy are three psychological needs of any human being
Let us now take a closer look at the concepts of autonomy and self-reliance, and how they relate to human brains, psychology and behavior. The study of Deci and Ryan (1985) is an interesting starting point. Deci and Ryan have studied the interaction between autonomy, belonging, and competence, which are three psychological needs of any human being. Autonomy is defined in this study as the experienced choice regarding one’s own behavior. When these needs are not met, it will negatively affect people’s self-motivation and mental health. The reverse is also true: when people become autonomous, their performance, well-being and involvement increase. This is in line with other research findings (Sheikholeslami & Arab-Moghaddam, 2010; Meijers, Harte & Scherder, 2018).
So, if autonomy is key to people’s well-being, how do we establish the right conditions for people to be autonomous whilst deprived of their liberty? Fortunately, I am not the only one to pose this question, and certainly not the first one. In the Netherlands, many pilot projects and prison units have been implemented exactly for this purpose: to increase incarcerated people’s self-reliance. In some units, residents have the key to their own cell; in others, they can use their own phone or can leave for work in the daytime. Not only the material conditions but also staff members play an important role in increasing the feeling of autonomy. A study by Molleman and Leeuw (2012) shows that people in detention experience more autonomy when staff plays a more supportive role. Many pilots were evaluated positively, and staff witnessed improvements in residents’ health. Moreover, these residents focused more on future perspective and seemed better prepared for their life after detention.
Let us now take this one step further and think about the ways in which autonomy can be increased in detention houses. The starting point is that the sentence consists only of the deprivation of liberty and that people should retain as much autonomy as possible. The big advantage of detention houses is that they are small. That means that the way of working can be individually tailored. Each individual has his or her own way to deal with autonomy. In houses with a low-security level, this will be easy. People will be able to cook together, have access to their phone to contact family and friends, might have internet-access, and leave the detention house for work or other daytime activities. But also in detention houses with a higher security level, this will be important. Perhaps even more important to think about.
In a high-security detention house, increasing autonomy will be all about small elements of self-reliance. The freedom of movement inside the house and garden does not have to be restricted. By giving people the key to their own room, their feeling of autonomy will increase. But autonomy involves more than physical movement. It also includes control over daily life activities that can be implemented in a closed setting: managing one’s own finances, under supervision if needed, determining one’s own daily schedule, being able to cook, even if it is only once a week, being able to do one’s own laundry and to order groceries. The feeling of control and autonomy will also increase when people can set their own goals, in addition to their goals of reintegration, and when they are supported in achieving these goals by enabling them to study or exercise, or by involving their social network. And why not empower them by letting them organize social activities in the detention house?
The custodial sentence only limits people’s freedom, so let’s not shackle the brain!
There is a well-known Dutch writer, Rutger Bregman, who has written a book entitled ‘Humankind’. With this book, the writer wants to sketch a new image of humanity, creating a new paradigm in which people are good.
‘Was Jean-Jacques Rousseau right? Is it true that man is good by nature, and that everything only went wrong with the emergence of civilization?’
His answer is yes, man is good by nature, so the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right when he wrote ‘Émile, ou De l’éducation’. In his book, Bregman gives dozens of examples in which individuals make the right decisions in difficult situations. In itself, this is a noble endeavor. With tear-jerking examples, he convinces the reader that in most cases humans are actually peaceful creatures.
Bregman is a child of our democratic society. He develops his theory on humankind based on classical-liberal thinking, individualism. Individualism has dominated our society for a long time and, logically, is based on the idea that an individual can fully develop in society and that every person is equal to each other. This is how the principle of equality arose in criminal law, the idea that our law should not be applied arbitrary and that it should treat every person as equal. The problem with that is that humans are not equal. We live in a deeply socially unequal society. Our criminal justice system was also born from this inequality. Is it surprising that our entire criminal justice system is largely made up of white professionals, judges, lawyers and people in prisons are predominantly from different cultural backgrounds? In prisons, individualism translates into all kinds of courses that focus on the dysfunctional individual. Someone is mentally ill, low literate has too little knowledge and capacities, etc. Help and support is quickly limited to ‘improving’, or ‘resocializing’ an individual. And rarely is a situation viewed holistically, or rarely do government agencies take responsibility for creating a “bad” situation that drove an individual to act. In the Netherlands, the government is the largest creditor of people in detention, this concerns health insurance, etc.
The ironic thing about Bregman’s ‘new’ view of mankind, that human beings are good, is that it is nothing new. It is a continuation of an old paradigm born out of religious morality, dichotomous thinking, namely that man is either good or bad. Strikingly, it is the Bible itself that implicitly argues against our modern criminal justice system. The prohibition on eating the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat an apple from this tree. I like to think because human beings are not supposed to judge about one another when it comes to what is good and what is evil. At the same time, this is precisely what our entire criminal justice system is designed for, condemning individuals to punishment. A crime is reduced to that one act of that one person. We only take the circumstances, the social network, or socio-economic situation into account as a backdrop when determining the person’s sentence. As if the circumstances are a still life in which that one person can be judged against a scale from good to evil. In this sense, justice is linear, a one-way route on a scale. The legal system should not be dealing with the individual morality, the individual’s ‘good or evil’, but should serve as an in-between space that balances the network of political, social, and cultural relations. Simply put, crime arises from the person AND the situation. Punishment is not central, but the consequences of the choices made by our legal system. Currently, we only look at one side of the story, nature. How about nurture? How does society deal with social issues and to what extent do we criminalize certain issues that could just as well be defined as a social problem that requires a social solution? To what extent can you hold the person responsible and to what extent has society been responsible for not solving structural social problems? This kind of reasoning might sound extreme to some people, but so was the idea that the Earth was round. It is time for us to take responsibility. If we want to reduce the widespread social inequality in society we will need a legal system that does no longer place the consequences of social inequality on the shoulders of individuals but addresses the inequality itself. Just as we can design our economy in a circular manner, we can also redesign our legal system towards circular justice. Circular justice can be defined as the process of exercising group autonomy with the aim of reaching social equity within society. This cannot be done overnight, but step by step. However, that starts with daring to choose a different horizon, a new future when it comes to a fair legal system.
With the RESCALED movement, this new future is in sight. With the small-scale detention houses, we want to move beyond the paradigm of individualism, based on the old-fashioned ideas of philosophers like Rousseau. You cannot raise a person outside of society to become a perfect person and then expect it to be the same person upon re-entering society. Instead, in detention houses, we assume that people are defined by their immediate social structures, the people they associate with, and the socio-economic context in which they live. We all take responsibility for our neighbor, justice is circular.
A virus has changed our world from one day to the next. Things that we still took for granted in early March might no longer be normal tomorrow. People are experiencing how dependent they are on each other. It turned out to be an illusion to see the individual as completely independent of the collective. There is again room for fraternity in society. Solidarity is the new motto. At the same time, the call to go back to “normal” is getting louder and louder in the media. But what is normal in society? What is normal about prisons?
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of us all.” – Khalil Gibran
Is it normal for real estate agents to make millions from thousands of people to buy one more Porsche in a different color? Is it normal for large corporations that have become dependent on the government due to Covid-19 to continue to pay bonuses to the company’s top executives who are already making millions? Is it normal for us to have prisons? Huge buildings that we stuff with people. Is it surprising that thousands of people in prisons in the Netherlands had psychological complaints before entering prison? That many people in prison are in debt with state agencies and that almost 100 percent of the young people in detention come from a family with problems? Were these not signs on the wall? As a collective, we have structurally limited opportunities for hundreds of thousands of citizens who were already struggling to become part of our society. We have created barriers for them to form an identity that matters in society long before they committed any crimes. We made them strangers among us and then punished them for that.
Last year I read a beautiful book by Stefan Zweig: The world of yesterday: memories of a European. In it he describes his life before and during two world wars. It reads like an adventure novel and I saw it play out before my eyes like a movie. In disbelief, I read about yesterday’s world. The severe poverty that Europe ended up in after the First World War, houses that lost their value and were exchanged for food. Back then, Europe had to reinvent itself. The corona crisis gives us an opportunity to do so again.
In the future we will perhaps no longer see prisoners or criminals,
but people who have not succeeded in becoming part of society.
Prisons symbolize only two of the three liberal values, equality and freedom, and that in the most minimalist form. There is little room for fraternity. The idea of fraternity, fraternité, dates back to the French Revolution, the influential political revolution that shaped European liberal democracy. The realization that every human life was of equal value took central stage. Fraternity can be seen as the connection between an individual and different communities that a person feels part of. Communities in which people take care of each other. Community in the broadest sense of the word can be a primitive community, a family or a more developed form of community, such as a neighborhood, company, institution, city or even country. So communities are always an integral part of the individual, and vice versa. There is a circular process of influence between an individual and the community. And it is precisely prison that breaks this connection in every possible way. Therefore, there can never be normalization in a prison. Normal would be a small-scale detention house. Just as we created small-scale houses in psychiatry and elderly care, we can make detention houses for people who are sentenced. In the future we will perhaps no longer see prisoners or criminals, but people who have not succeeded in becoming part of society
Today’s world may become yesterday’s world. Fraternity has become part of our communities again as a result of the corona crisis. Politicians call on people to take care of each other. Wouldn’t it be great if the rich real estate dealers share half of their assets with their tenants? What if all corporate CEOs voluntarily hand over their bonuses, and wages above a certain amount of income, to the state, who can distribute it better to the people? And what if, as icing on the cake, we close prisons one by one and build small scale detention houses in towns and villages? We have the opportunity now to rebuild communities in such a way that we really care for and support each other long before things go wrong.
The world of yesterday was not so normal, nor is today’s world. On to the world of tomorrow!