Last week, the Dutch State Secretary for Security and Justice introduced a bill that proposes to let convicted persons pay for their detention (imprisonment or entrustment in a private or state mental institution). The bill was announced in the coalition agreement, signed between the VVD and PvdA in 2012. The bill does not give a real justification of why paying for detention is necessary. The State Secretary states that detention costs society a lot of money and that paying for a sanction is no longer an unfamiliar phenomenon. He refers to two administrative (!) sanctions where paying for the execution of the sanction is part of the sanction.
This justification is thrifty, but it makes sense: the government is in desperate need of money, and there seems to be no time for real arguments. One wonders whether there are any arguments in favour of this bill. That question cannot be answered in this blog. I would like to focus on several aspects of the bill that I believe are in need of clarification. I will name five:
No contribution has to be paid by persons who were detained pre-trial if these persons were not convicted (proposed art. 7a Penitentiary Principles Act (PPA)). The text of the proposed article does not make clear whether a person has to pay for his detention if that person is convicted in first instance, his detention was declared immediately enforceable, but he was then released later by the court of appeal. The explanatory memorandum makes clear that a person only has to pay for detention that has become irrevocable (p. 3). It would be preferable to make the text of the proposed article more clear on this point.
A maximum can be set on the sum that a convicted person has to pay for his detention (proposed art. 7b, section 2 PPA). In the explanatory memorandum the State Secretary claims the sum will be maximised (p. 3). This should be clarified. Besides this, it is clear that the bill deals with temporary prison sentences. But what to do with life sentences? Is the sum that a prisoner serving a life sentence has to pay for his detention also maximised? And if so, is the maximum the same amount? Third, the maximum is only defined in the explanatory memorandum (16 euros per day with a maximum of two years (in sum 11.680 euros)), but not in the proposed article 7b PPA, nor does it say how the maximum will be determined.
The contribution has to be paid six weeks after the date on the invoice (proposed art. 7b, section 4 PPA). The invoice will be sent to the convicted person shortly after their conviction has become irrevocable. The State Secretary has not made clear why he wants convicted persons to pay for their detention so soon after their conviction. Surprisingly, the State Secretary states in the explanatory memorandum that a majority of convicted persons have a job but also serious debts when they enter prison. Six months after their detention, 40% of ex-convicts have debts that are known to the city councils, and 87% have some sort of income (p. 3). These numbers raise the question why convicted persons should pay for their detention so soon after their conviction and not later on during their detention.
Persons who are entrusted in a private or public state institution (a mental hospital) can also be forced to pay for their detention. The entrustment order lasts up to two years, but can be extended (art. 38d Criminal Code). If the entrustment order is extended, does the entrusted person have to pay for their extended detention? Probably not, because of the maximum of two years, but the bill is not clear on this point. Next to this, in case a person is sentenced to both imprisonment and an entrustment order, should he pay twice?
- Lastly, it is unclear what happens when a person was convicted and sentenced, paid for their detention, but that their conviction proved false and was reviewed. Will that person get the money back that was paid for their detention? The bill should me more clear on this subject.