Dutch Prisons Are So Empty That They’re Being Converted Into Refugee Housing

"Lola Lik was a creative hub situated in the former main building of the Bijlmerbajes prison and neighbour to the refugee centre Wenckebachweg. Lola Lik worked closely together with COA, the organisation responsible for the reception and supervision of asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands. Together we ran educational and entertainment programmes and searched for new creative ways to welcome and support ‘New Amsterdammers’ living in the centre."Screengrab/Lola Lik/YouTube

From 2006 to 2016, the Dutch prison population fell from 20,463 to 10,102. Now prisons are undergoing transformations.

Unlike the United States, where incarceration rates are astronomical compared to other developed countries, the Netherlands are finding new uses for their rapidly emptying prisons.

One of those uses? Housing for refugees.

According to a report from the World Economic Forum earlier this year, the Dutch prison population was more than halved between 2006 and 2016, from nearly 20,500 to just over 10,000 inmates.

This is equal to about 59 prisoners per 100,000 population, according to data from the World Prison Brief. In comparison, the United States, which has the world’s highest incarceration rate, has 666 prisoners per 100,000 population, or a total of more than 2.1 million inmates.

The Netherland’s low incarceration rates are largely thanks to relaxed drug laws, a focus on rehabilitation and an electronic ankle monitor system.

These measures have resulted in the closure of multiple prisons across the country in recent years, including Bijlmerbajes in Amsterdam, which was shut down in 2016.

While Bijlmerbajes reportedly will be demolished and converted into housing in the future, it was home to a “creative hub called Lola Lik, which [included] space for start-ups, a language school and a coffee shop” until last year.

Though Lola Lik closed at the end of 2017, several other entities remain available to the public, including Bijlmerbajes Events, Boksschool Bijlmerbajes, More than Les - Dutch Courses, Refugee Company, Startup Kitchen, The Movement Hotel and Waarmakers | Ontwerpers.

Lola Lik [was] also neighbour to the Wenckebachweg refugee centre, where up to 1,000 people are offered accommodation while seeking asylum. Guests arriving at the centre are encouraged to share their skills and learn new crafts.

Alongside this project, the city of Amsterdam and various partners signed an agreement designed to help refugees secure employment opportunities. According to a report featured in Fast Company, this initiative reflects Amsterdam’s policy of actively fostering and encouraging activities aimed at the inclusion of refugees.

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