Spotlight on Probation in the Netherlands. (Probation and Parole Forum)

Article excerpt

During the past decade, probation agencies around the world have faced the challenge of responding to media criticism of their services. After having been ignored for years by the media, probation agencies today have found the portrait painted by the pundits to be negative rather than positive. In response to these images and since most probation agencies operate as government services either directly or under contract, the usual plan of attack has been one of redefinition and reorganization. The activity of redefining and reorganizing has been combined with the requirement for cost reduction. This particular activity again is front and center in most probation services. The ideal outcome of this strategy is a reduction in costs and an improvement in service quality.

Probation in the Netherlands faced such a challenge in 1991, when the government demanded significant cost reductions and an improvement in the quality of service delivered. The Dutch Probation Service has existed for more than 179 years. It has been comprised of one or more independent, private organizations that have had no formal relationship with government. Throughout most of its history, the Dutch Probation Service tended to focus exclusively on offenders. It developed from a purely voluntary service to a highly professional one.

Prior to the introduction of the reorganization initiative, probation in the Netherlands comprised 19 autonomous foundations, each under the direction of its own board and director. These organizations formed the Dutch Federation of Probation Institutions. This collective of probation services took upon itself the role of finding a solution to the cost reductions and the enhancement of services that were being demanded by government. This federation concluded that the situation of probation was precarious and significant change could not be avoided. It further concluded that the system in the Netherlands needed a central authority and a unifying strategy if probation was to continue.

After four years of effort, the reorganization of probation in the Netherlands was completed. In 1995, one national board replaced the former 19 services and became the Dutch Probation Foundation, headed by a director general. This agency forms the head office and negotiates with the Ministry of Justice for the Netherlands regarding budget and strategy. Today, the Dutch Probation Service consists of three national bodies that comprise the Probation Foundation.

The Dutch Probation Service, the largest of the agencies, is comprised of five branch offices and 54 executive units and it receives the majority of available funding. Its work covers all aspects of probation and it has working agreements with the Salvation Army Probation Department and the Probation Department of GGZ Nederland regarding specialized cases.

The Salvation Army Probation Department is divided into two districts and seven executive units. The main focus of this department is on homeless probationers and juveniles with multiple problems.

GGZ Nederland's probation department is a national organization specializing in programs for substance abuse and mental health. It is comprised of a number of agencies that work in the field of mental health and addictions. The reorganization strategy included defining and articulating the mission and tasks of the new Dutch Probation Service.

Dutch Probation Service Mission

The new corporate strategy of the Dutch Probation Service is captured in its mission statement, which reads: "The probation service contributes to the social resettlement of people who have come into conflict with the criminal law. This includes efforts to prevent offending behavior while attempting to minimize any accompanying tension and impropriety. Within the remit provided by criminal law, probation aims at reinforcing those influences that contribute to the resettlement of a suspect/convict and at discouraging those influences that interfere with resettlement. …