You have probably noticed that our current criminal policy makers receive an awful lot of criticism. Now, policy makers are always being criticized. But the policies of our crime-fighting duo at the Justice department, Minister Opstelten en State Secretary Teeven, raise fundamental questions about the quality of our policies. With this letter, I would like to draw your attention to the opportunities you have to do things differently and, moreover, better. After all, you could be our future policy maker.
Just look at the news headlines of last week.
State Secretary Teeven was asked to explain himself to Parliament last week, after he appeared on TV warning of increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands, mostly from Syria and Eritrea. The total number this year may be some 65,000 refugees, ‘which is of course a disaster,’ Teeven said. Notwithstanding concerns about organized human smuggling, current developments raise serious policy questions, as migration is being framed as a security problem and countries are using violence themselves to keep refugees out of Fort Europe.
The Council for the Judiciary (Raad voor de Rechtspraak) also rang alarm bells last week. Policy makers want to ‘score’ with decisive or ‘sexy’ policies which results in ‘sloppy law making’ overstepping the rule of law. Criminal policy may be especially sensitive to ‘quick and dirty’ policies as being tough on crime always seems to win votes. For example, politicians want to send offenders to prison without awaiting their appeal. Besides the fact that such a policy sidesteps one of the most important legal principles – you are innocent until proven guilty – it is unnecessary and potentially very costly: every year of unfair detention costs the state about 50,000 Euros to reimburse.
Could our policy makers please fight crime without breaking rules and laws themselves?
A final example: why are our policy makers spending increasing amounts of money and manpower to catch cannabis growers, while countries such as Uruguay, Portugal and Spain and even some states in the U.S.A. have legalised growing and selling cannabis? Why is Minister Opstelten not listening to those 54 mayors who want to regulate the growth and supply of cannabis? The minister claims international laws prohibit regulation, but his interpretation of those laws may just be wrong. Crime pays? Legalisation really pays: Colorado (USA) collected 2 million dollars in taxes in the first month. The first 40 million dollars from duties (accijns) will be spent on schools.
It is easy to criticize policy makers (and I am often tempted to). But what we really need is policy makers who can do better. We need competent policy makers who can offer effective solutions while respecting the rule of law. What we need, is well-educated criminologists. Dear criminology student, as you are choosing your future studies and considering career options, please consider committing yourself to designing good solutions for our urgent problems. Criminal policy needs you.
Gwen van Eijk
Assistant Professor of Criminology
P.S.: If you are interested in learning all about the challenge of effective and legitimate criminal policy, please take a look at our master programme Veiligheidsbeleid en rechtshandhaving (Criminal Policy and Law Enforcement). Do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss your options.