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Out of prison, but no income

31 August 2007 - Amsterdam has to organise services for thousands of former prisoners, but focuses on groups that cause trouble, a recent SP report reveals. The Amsterdam SP has not yet discussed the outcome of the study.

Ronald Wolters of the Zorgconcept organisation says that 4,000 former prisoners return to Amsterdam every year, 1,500 of them frequent offenders. For the latter group, services have been improved, the SP concludes. Municipalities have received additional funds from the national government for that purpose.

Wolters points out that this is of little help to the other 2,500 former prisoners. When they are released, they are left “with a plastic bag containing their clothes and a train ticket to Amsterdam”.

According to Robert Varekamp of the organisation Christian Prison Ministries, services for former prisoners are reasonably good in Amsterdam. People who have lived in Amsterdam before can get a house within four months. The welfare agency used to give an advance of a few thousand euros in no time.

The latter has changed, according to the SP report. The Amsterdam welfare agency strives “not to have people end up in the welfare system automatically, but to organise their own income”.

And procedures have become stricter: “a former prisoner will only get an advance from this institution after all the paperwork has been filed and a home inspection has taken place - often as long as a month after their release”.

If former prisoners are stuck without income, a house and care, there is a higher risk that they will again engage in criminal activities. Wolters of Zorgconcept points out that services easily pay for themselves: if people end up in prison again, they cost 65,000 euro per year.

He argues for more collaboration among the services former prisoners have to deal with, such as the welfare agency and youth welfare work. In Eindhoven, all these organisations are at the same location. They are notified when prisoners are to be released, so as to be able to organise the necessary services in time.

Varekamp says churches should be involved as well. His organisation has a Christian background, “but we leave the Bible at home. If someone is hungry you shouldn’t hit him on the head with a Bible. Then he will still be hungry and have a headache to boot”.

According to the new Social Support Act (WMO), municipalities are responsible for the coordination of services for former prisoners. There has been some quarrelling about funding among municipalities and the ministries involved. In June, the national government and municipalities agreed to do a study on the costs involved.

The Amsterdam SP still has to discuss the report on services for former prisoners, party leader Remine Alberts says.

Illustration: Havenstraat prison (photo DJI). SP report, Zorgconcept, Christian Prison Ministries (in Dutch)


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