The women’s prison in Nieuwersluis, the Netherlands.
NIEUWERSLUIS--Female inmates at a prison near Utrecht were subjected to bullying, threats and sexual harassment by guards, according to a report by Justice Ministry inspectors.
The inspectors started their investigation into events at the Nieuwersluis prison after police in May 2022 arrested a guard who had been accused of sexually abusing three inmates.
While most of the incidents involved staff making sexually-tinged comments towards inmates, there were also cases in which prisoners and guards had sexual contact, including oral gratification, the inspectors’ report said. Women were also subjected to discrimination and racism.
The women were frightened to make reports about the guards’ behaviour, fearing they would not be believed or that they would be moved to a different prison. Guards also felt pressured not to speak out, the report said.
The scale and frequency of the incidents was not part of the investigation. However, 66 workers and prisoners were questioned and that, the inspectorate said, showed the problems were not incidental and that there is a “continuous and urgent situation.”
The prison culture is one that made it possible for “workers to show a lack of integrity, including sexual harassment,” chief inspector Esther de Kleuve said. “The living and working conditions are not safe enough, not for inmates and not for staff.”
The inspectors recommended a shake-up of prison culture and a commitment to ensure at least one female member of staff is on duty in each wing during the day. The prison service is also being asked to establish a hotline for female inmates to report problems without staff being aware they have done so.
Minister for Legal Protection Franc Weerwind said in a reaction that he had been “shocked” by the inspectors’ conclusions. “Prison should be a safe place for inmates and staff, which is why I am taking on all the inspectors’ recommendations. We are also taking measures at the other two women’s prisons.”