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11/1 Jurists want to stay in Oudemanhuispoort

8/2 Mayor’s portrait

8/2 Websites for social cohesion

7/2 Spreading tourism proceeds with difficulty

7/2 GroenLinks on districts: Be a man

6/2 Zuideramstel opens new office on Sabbath

5/2 The truth about integration

4/2 Wilders has little support on Amsterdam

3/2 Elite involved in neighbourhood

2/2 Johnnie Walker avoids taxes in Amsterdam

1/2 Rotterdam to tinker with district councils as well

31/1 Wooden rowing boats to disappear from Amstel

31/1 ZeeburgTV launched

27/1 Privacy activists to mess up loyalty card system

27/1 A few were still coughing, but that was an act

27/1 Chrisis in de Baarsjes

26/1 Youth have positive view of districts

24/1 Action groups call for Carmel and Jaffa boycott

24/1 PvdA members dismiss plan for districts

23/1 KLM takes on crisis with new uniform

23/1 District office not squatted

21/1 Merge districts

20/1 Closing squat bar Vrankrijk not necessary

20/1 Cleaners welcome new Schiphol director

18/1 Palestine at the Jewish Historical Museum

18/1 What is the right size for a district?

17/1 PvdA Oost against fewer districts

16/1 Committee: 7 districts by 2010

15/1 Soldiers may attend Afghanistan debate after all

15/1 Bait bike leads to arrest

14/1 Youth for Christ to republish vacancies

13/1 Paintings of the Zuidas

13/1 New Youth for Christ contoversy

11/1 Social cohesion initiative raises eyebrows

10/1 Fewer districts in 2010

10/1 Zuidas: People feel that we are losers

9/1 Fun on the ice - but not for all

9/1 Supermarket coupon fraud thwarted

9/1 I Amsterdam must remain exclusive

8/1 Use term Apartheid in every discussion

8/1 No city kiosk in Amsterdam yet

7/1 Snow

7/1 Fatima Elatik to run Zeeburg

7/1 Municipal managers to return to shop floor

4/1 Police: take photo of strange people

3/1 Gaza protest criticises politicians

1/1 Thousands to protest against attacks on Gaza

1/1 Mustapha Laboui leaves district council


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No peeking at the prisoners

8 April 2006 – Twelve thousand people today took the opportunity to take a look inside a prison. Critics warned against ‘peeking at the prisoners’, but this was hardly the case at the Detention House at the Havenstraat in Amsterdam.

Some people see prisons as hotels, said the unit manager at the reception, while others see them as the place were sadists and racists do their work. Not surprisingly, the goal of inviting the public to take a look inside the prisons was to “show that both images are wrong”.

In advance, prisoner rights organisation EORG had announced that it would protest with megaphones at the gates. “The people inside, and they are the ones who count for EORG, do not like it at all, they sometimes call it ‘peeking at the prisoners’, the small amount of privacy that they still have is being compromised by [Justice Minister] Donner in this way”.

Incidentally, organisations such as Bonjo (a platform of organisations for detainees, former detainees and their families) and the Anarchist Group Amsterdam (AGA) are less outspoken on the open days. They think there are positive aspects to them as well.

In any case, there were no protesters at the gate of the Havenstraat this morning. The unit manager emphasised that the visit should not degenerate into peeking at the prisoners. We were urged not to draw the curtains at the hatches of the cell doors.

During the tour, hardly a prisoner was to be seen. The exception consisted of some men in prison shirts, loading loafs of bread on carts. “They do not mind us coming to take a look”, said the jailor who was showing us around.

Today she did not have to wear a uniform, which normally she does. “When a large fight breaks out, it is important to be able to see instantly who the jailors are. As a woman you are identifiable as a jailor in any case, since all the prisoners here are men”.

The Havenstraat House of Detention is more than 130 years old and a monument. “Only toilets have been built in the cells, for the rest the inside is still in its original condition”, the unit manager said.

In total, the facility has room for 224 prisoners. While Dutch prisoners still typically have their own cell, 26 cells are to be used by two prisoners each. At present, half the institution is being transformed into a department for repeat offenders. Homeless people and drug addicts who have stolen one milk carton or bicycle too many, can be put away there for two years.

The cells are small, especially if you take into account that some of them have been converted into two-person cells by replacing the beds with bunk beds. The room is so narrow, that you can hardly avoid each other. At four pm, the prisoners get a thermos of tea or coffee, after which the door is locked.

During the day as well, they are locked up in principle, unless for example they are doing labour. The regime is somewhat stricter than in a normal prison. This has to do with the Havenstraat being a House of Detention, where prisoners tend to stay for a relatively short time. As soon as a final judgement has been passed, they move to a regular prison.

The tour included the isolation cells, the cage where punished prisoners get their one hour of fresh air, the kitchen and the workshop where the prisoners assemble striplight fittings or cups. At the end, a demonstration was given by the internal assistance team, which has been created specifically to clear the new two-person cells.

The jailors, dressed in riot gear, attacked two of their colleagues, who were acting as recalcitrant prisoners. This involved quite a struggle and an occasional strike with the baton. “It may seem a bit chaotic, but they operate according to a fixed plan”, the trainer said.

He also said that the team has only once found itself in a situation in which some violence had to be administered. “Their fame precedes them. When the prisoners see a man wearing a helmet standing in front of the cell door, they almost always choose to cooperate. And that is a wise decision”.

Last week, an inspection report was published, which gives a positive judgement of how the Havenstraat jailors do their job. In general, the conditions in the prison system are less positive. The number of cells has grown very rapidly, and as a result of cutbacks, serious abuses occur.

Background: Abuses behind bars

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