Universiteit Leiden

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Discrimination and inequality in the criminal justice system are still major issues

‘Criminal law is still an inequality machine’, argues Folkert Jensma in his fortnightly column for Dutch newspaper NRC. After attending the conference ‘Ongelijkheid en de Strafrechtpleging’ ('Inequality and the criminal justice system'), he concludes that ‘nothing has changed’ since his time as a student.

Leiden University hosted the ‘Ongelijkheid en de Strafrechtpleging’ conference on 22 March 2024. ‘It took me back to my first lectures in criminology’, says Jensma. ‘I clearly remember that the main issue was why criminal law was so clearly discriminatory.’

Now, years on, he says it seems that nothing has changed. ‘At least three speakers mentioned the problem that the criminal justice system is 98% white, old, culturally and socially homogenous. As a result, it has no contact with our average, pluralistic society.’ There's no denying the figures presented during the conference: ‘I noted the statement “people without Dutch nationality get 47% longer prison sentences than people with Dutch nationality”. The proportion of minority groups in prisons is three times greater than in the general population. Looking at the prison population, 66% has a migrant background compared to 26% of the general population.’

He concludes: ‘Criminal law is still an inequality machine, with very one-sided selections. In many cases, companies can “buy off” prosecution or punishment, citizens who commit benefits fraud are punished far more severely than those who commit fraud involving tax or subsidies, prison sentences are consistently doled out to society's most vulnerable. With race, ethnicity, origin, poor mental capacity and debts as detrimental factors.’

Jensma ends his column by asking: ‘How prejudiced is the law? But more importantly: why isn’t this seen as a huge problem?’

More information

Read the whole column (in Dutch) in NRC (€).

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