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Foreign national suspects appear in court and sentenced more often

Compared to suspects with the Dutch nationality, foreign nationals face court proceedings more often and are given a prison sentence more often than Dutch suspects. This was the outcome of research conducted by Hilde Wermink, Assistant Professor at Leiden Law School, and American sociologist Michael Light.

Hilde Wermink

As a consequence of more immigration and the free movement of persons, particularly in Europe, the criminal justice system is increasingly having to deal with foreign national suspects. These suspects are overrepresented in prison populations. What are the reasons for this? Hilde Wermink conducted empirical research into the role of nationality in criminal case proceedings.

Wermink writes about the outcomes of her research in a blog on the website of the Netherlands Law Journal (NJB). 'Compared to suspects with the Dutch nationality, who are arrested for the same crimes and with similar criminal records, it was found that foreign national suspects are referred to court more often, and are given a prison sentence more often than Dutch suspects.’


To find out what can explain this difference, Wermink interviewed judges and public prosecutors. 'They said that irritation arises when foreign national suspects are only here with the purpose of committing crime', Wermink writes. 'If judges believe this to be the case,  it is a reason for them to pass a prison sentence instead of a lighter punishment. In addition, transnational mobility gives rise to logistical issues so that fines and community punishment orders are not fully considered, for example for suspects who not have a fixed address in the Netherlands.' The goals of punishment also appeared to depend on nationality, in the sense that reintegration is an option for Dutch suspects but not for foreign nationals who do not have a fixed address in the Netherlands.

In addition, the role of pretrial detention was a recurring theme in the interviews.  'Reference was often made to the flight risk posed by foreign nationals and pretrial detention was seen as a way to maintain influence over them.' 

The research conducted by Hilde Wermink and Michael Light is available open access.

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