Through Dutch eyes: Mini blog series reflecting on differences between the NZ and Dutch criminal justice systems

Part One - Speed trials


As a Dutch person arriving to New Zealand what really struck me is that the prison rates are so high in a country with such a small population. The contrast between New Zealand and The Netherlands could hardly be more striking.


In both New Zealand and The Netherlands there has been an overall decline in crime in the past decade or so. However, while The Netherlands is taking steps to intentionally reduce its prison population, New Zealand’s prison population is growing at an alarming rate.


While New Zealand is planning to open up more prisons, The Netherlands has been shutting down a lot of its prisons over the last couple of years. While the incarceration rate in The Netherlands is 69 per 100,000 people, the rate in New Zealand is approximately 210 per 100,000 people, which is the seventh highest place within the OECD. This means that New Zealand locks people up at 3 times the rate of The Netherlands. What are we doing so differently?


Over the next month I will reflect on a few things that The Netherlands does differently that may explain some of why we have such a lower rate of incarceration. First up- speed trials.


One of the possible reasons the prison population has been reducing in The Netherlands is that we have so-called speed trials for common/frequent ‘minor’ offences that happen during events like theft, vandalism or nightlife violence. These cases are being handled within a maximum of 17 days.


The cases eligible for speed trials are those in which there is a guilty plea or when someone is caught in the act. In 2015 around two thirds of the common ‘minor’ cases went through speed trial. One of the advantages of these speed trials is that the state imposed consequences are more immediate and there is not a long period of uncertainty for everyone involved. If a person is remanded in prison before trial they are only there for a maximum of 17 days.


A focus on improving efficiency in the criminal justice system does not address underlying issues of punitiveness or inequities. But with reports that New Zealanders are spending longer awaiting court dates, often on remand, perhaps a little more speed might be a start.


Look out for next week’s blog post on The Netherlands’ youth justice system for 16-23 year olds.