Veenhuizen – The Dutch Prison Village

Veenhuizen is the site of the second institution set up by the Society of Humanitarianism, a Dutch private organization established in 1818 by General Johannes van den Bosch to help desperately poor families, mostly from the big cities.

General Johannes van den Bosch

The society considered labor to be the only means to combat poverty and that the path to a better life was one of sobriety, hard work, sacrifice and Christian values. In Bosch’s view, the poor and needy were a natural part of society so that the rich and wealthy could and should show their mercy as a token of Christian charity. Relying on the generosity of the well-to-do to finance the lives of poor vagrants proved to be an unreliable funding strategy and eventually the facility became state run.

The General

Veenhuizen was a very remote and scary place at the time, it being close to at least three asylums. Forced relocation here was generally a punishment for alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, waste, brutality or desertion and was designed to help alleviate the abject poverty in Dutch cities during the early 19th century. In 1859 the colony was taken over by the Dutch state and is now a museum describing the penal colony where vagrants and beggars were locked up and put to work. This forced labor was supposed to cure them of their “work shy behavior”.

One of the schemes incorporated by the Society was the use of short moral and inspirational slogans to help keep “inmates” focused and motivated. These expressions are affixed to every building and were a part of everyday life.


  • Orde en Tucht – Order and Discipline
  • Arbeid is Zegen – Labor is Blessing
  • Een van Zin – One of Meaning
  • Voted en Recht – Straight and Right
  • Werk en Bid – Work and Pray
  • Bitter en Zoet – Bitter and Sweet
  • Rust Roest – Peaceful Sleep
  • Zorg en Vlijt – Care and Diligence
  • Flink en Vlug – Smart and Fast
  • Eendracht – Unity
  • Verdraagzaamheid – Tolerance
  • Vooruit – Forward
  • Kennis is Macht – Knowledge is Power
  • Helpt Elkander – Help Each Other
  • Plichtgevoel – Feel of Duty
  • Leerlust – Apprenticeship
  • Humaniteit – Humanity
  • Wijsbeleid – Wise Policy
  • Controle – Control Your Behavior

Please excuse some of my translations. I did my best.

Duplex for prison officials.



Besides the Museum, the prison village of Veehuizen is also the location of the Nogerhaven jail. This Dutch jail is rented by Norwegian prison authorities and is so popular there is a waiting list as all 241 places are occupied. Prisoners here get more outside time, work less and have extra time to stay in contact with families via Skype.


This would appear to be a win-win for everyone involved as the the Norwegians have a shortage of prison cells and the Netherlands has a surplus. The Dutch prison personnel also describe the Norwegian prisoners as well behaved with much better manners then their Dutch counterparts. Seems odd, a prison with no “Machine Gun Kelly” but an “Olav the Polite” and an “Ivar the Courteous”.

In 2016 it was reported that the Netherlands will close five prisons in the next few years as a cost cutting scheme, given that there are thousands of empty jail cells here due to a steadily declining crime rate, where as Norway is seeing an opposite trend.

Yes, there is a gift shop.

2 thoughts on “Veenhuizen – The Dutch Prison Village

  1. Sabine

    Wow, heaven on earth! We visited recently a jail in western Australia, Dating from the mid 19th century, closed mid 80-ies of last century. Gallows and wipping pole Included.
    We can help you with one translation: rust roest means rest rusts. So when you don’t do anything it will become worse.
    Thanks again for your interesting observations!

  2. jeanette

    Empty jail cells…what accounts for this progress? I’m interested in hearing more about that from you when next we get to have a sit down. My favorite is “work shy behavior”, I feel like that quite frequently!


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