The long-term perspective of systematic offender measure appears to lag behind

Sanne Struijk

Some perpetrators make the same mistake more than once. They commit offences again and again. Often, there is more than meets the eye regarding these individuals, like addiction, debts or psychological or antisocial personality problems. These perpetrators are called highly active repeat offenders or systematic offenders. The Dutch measure placement in an Institution for Systematic Offenders (in Dutch: Inrichting voor Stelselmatige Daders (ISD)) was introduced in 2004 and allowed the criminal court to sentence these offenders to two years of detention. The measure intends to protect society during this period and provides the offender with the necessary individual care. The latter appears to lag, Sanne Struijk, Professor of Penal Law at Erasmus School of Law, observes in cooperation with research institute IVO in a qualitative evaluation study commissioned by the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC).

The study shows that there needs to be more clarity with regard to the purpose of the ISD. This is due to the two folded goal of the measure. On the one hand, the measure aims to protect society from crime and the nuisance of systematic offenders by confinement in a special institution. On the other hand, the measure should achieve the resocialisation of these offenders by reducing their multi-problems with an intensive care and treatment programme. However, the policy does not sufficiently elaborate on how to deal with this duality. In the absence of a clear national vision, it varies in practice which of these goals is emphasised. This also leads to different ISD locations developing their visions and procedures, which can create legal inequality.

Untapped potential

In addition, the location of the ISD institution complicates the implementation of the care and resocialisation goal. This is because the ISD is located in a Penitentiary Institution (PI), which also entails a house of detention and a prison. The PI is mainly set up for securing and controlling, making it hard to achieve care and treatment within the ISD. For example, the PI's sanctioning drug detention policy does not provide the space for the care and support needed for the ISD target group. Moreover, the PI lacks sufficient behavioural expertise and capacity to support offenders with addiction or other mental health conditions. Furthermore, the lack of a well-developed vision of what ISD is exactly intended to achieve during the two years of deprivation of liberty makes it difficult to hold chain partners, such as municipalities and forensic care institutions, accountable for their responsibilities in the implementation and aftercare of the measure. From this point of view, the researchers' report is called 'Untapped potential'.

As the current practice of the ISD is thus, according to the researchers, difficult to distinguish from the normal course of events in a PI, it is recommended that the character of the ISD is strengthened to better reflect the care and treatment goals. It is necessary to develop a shared and national ISD vision to achieve this. And as part of this, especially a treatment vision, which substantiates how and in what setting treatment can reduce the risk of recidivism. Finally, more structural agreements with municipalities are needed to better connect the help offered after the ISD measure.

In a Letter to Parliament, the Minister for Legal Protection Franc Weerwind informed, in response to the research report, that a process has been started to achieve national uniformity of the ISD policy with (more) attention to a balance between care and treatment on the one hand and security on the other.

More information

Click here for the full report 'Untapped potential' (in Dutch).

Click here for Minister Weerwind's parliamentary letter on the report (in Dutch).

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