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Violence in juvenile detention centers has increased in recent years

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Young prisoners attacked each other more than one and a half times as often in 2020 as in 2018. Other forms of aggression and violence were also much more common in Dutch youth prisons during that period, according to figures obtained by Argos. 

The figures concern both incidents in which the young prisoners themselves became victims and cases of violence against staff. Employees and the inspectorates have been warning about the circumstances for some time.

The NPO Radio 1 program Argos obtained figures through the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wob) about various cases of aggression and violence in the three National Juvenile Institutions (RJJI) and the two private institutions in the Netherlands. Almost all of them show a significant increase. Violence between detainees rose the most during the two-year period, the program calculated: from 270 to 460 times.

Violence against staff also increased, although figures on this are incomplete. In 2020, 144 of these notifications were recorded, but some information is missing. The year before, there were already 153 incidents, compared to 133 incidents in 2018, according to the figures. All institutions are included in the figures from those years. Psychological and verbal abuse against employees of the RJJI alone increased by 42 percent between 2018 and 2020 to 370 incidents.

At the beginning of this month, the four inspectorates that oversee juvenile detention centers warned that working conditions have not really improved. There is a shortage of staff and therefore a lack of places for young people. Money and measures announced in October of 2021 have not changed that much, according to the inspectorates. There are still more employees leaving than coming in. Staff who remain fear that experience will disappear as a result.

Violence in juvenile detention centers was slightly less common in 2021 than a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Justice, although those figures are not exhaustive, according to Argos. The statistics show “that the population of offenders is hardening,” says Harm de Boer of the Central Works Council of the Custodial Institutions Service in the radio program.

Minister for Legal Protection Franc Weerwind said in a letter to Parliament that he is confident that the measures that have been announced will have results, but that this will take time. A week later, the minister said in a debate in the Tweede Kamer that care must be taken when recruiting that new staff can handle the work. “I don’t want people burning down, that we find they can’t handle the job.”

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