In 2009, the Dutch justice ministry announced the planned closing of eight prisons in the Netherlands due to a declining crime rate which was expected to continue.
Now, in 2013, there are 19 prisons scheduled to be closed. This is caused, in part, by a continued decline in crime rates. Additionally, those who are convicted are choosing electronic tagging instead of incarceration. This allows people to go back to work and continue as productive members of society. It also saves about $50,000 per year per person (about $50 million saved per year for every 1000 people).
Johnson County and the Netherlands have something in common. The average incarceration rate in the Netherlands is about 163 people per 100,000. (Source) In Johnson County, we have about the same rate of incarceration – slightly lower. (Source: 2012 Annual Sheriff’s Report – PDF)
Counties and countries with low incarceration rates typically take a different approach to criminal justice and their investment in social services.
In the Netherlands, for example, the focus is on “deterring and mitigating crime” as well as “sanctioning those who violate laws with … rehabilitation efforts.” (Source)
This is similar to the approach taken in Johnson County with jail alternatives andinvesting in local social services. The county recently invested approximately $2.3 million into a portfolio of local organizations that have demonstrated a history of success with improving the quality of life in Johnson County.
While progressive drug laws in the Netherlands may be partially the reason for a decline in arrests, other social factors are also at work. This points to crime reduction through changing social behavior as a key to reducing incarceration — rather than just changing the laws or telling police to stop arresting people as a method for artificially creating the perception that there’s less crime.