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Marieke Liem on life imprisonment

On Wednesday 26 June, Marieke Liem, Associate Professor Physical Violence and Public Order at Leiden University’s Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA), appeared on both Dutch radio programme ‘Nieuws & CO’ and the eight o’clock television news (NOS) to discuss life imprisonment.

In connection with a series of so called Mocro Maffia assassinations and attempted assassinations, the Dutch court issued sentences ranging from seven years to life imprisonment. Omar L. and Hicham M. will have to spend their life behind bars for their part in several murders and attempted murders in Amsterdam’s criminal scene. Four other men who played lesser roles were given limited sentences, ranging from seven to thirty years. According to the Public Prosecution Office the violence originated with a group of criminals commonly referred to as the ‘mocro maffia’.

Life imprisonment

Appearing on the eight o’clock NOS news, Liem spoke about life imprisonment. ‘It’s safe to say that the political climate is toughening up. There is this growing demand that sentences should be all about retribution. And because of that, we’re losing sight of other objectives such as rehabilitation.’

You can watch the segment (in Dutch) on NPO – 1 (starts at 14:00)

Safety Paradox

During radio news programme ‘Nieuws en Co’ Liem said: ‘During the last couple of years, life imprisonment sentences have been imposed much more often than before. Since the beginning of this century that number has more than quadrupled. This is not a result of more murders being committed, or of killings becoming more ‘heinous’. On the contrary, we see a declining trend in murder rates, the number has never been so low as it has been the last couple of years. It might be possible to explain this demand for harsher sentences by using the safety paradox. The less violence there is, the less safe people believe themselves to be. It goes without saying that every time a murder is committed, it receives wide press coverage. And naturally, because murder these days is such a relatively rare crime, we tend to react very strongly, which fuels the demand for harsher sentences.’

Deterrent Effect

Liem elaborates: ‘It has been suggested that imposing harsher sentences would have a deterrent effect on possible offenders but, these days, we know from research that harsher sentences don’t help to bring murder rates down. It’s actually quite common to see higher murder rates in areas where they have the death penalty. A higher probability of getting caught, not the severity of the punishment, appears to be key in reducing major crime.

Listen to the Dutch fragment on Nieuws & Co (starts at 17:00).

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