Prison unemployment payments leave Dutch red-faced

The Hague (AFP) –


Dutch authorities have been left red-faced after revelations that hundreds of prisoners collect unemployment benefits behind bars despite the law specifically prohibiting the practice.

Angry parliamentarians called Social and Labour Minister Wouter Koolmees to answer questions Thursday following a report by a Dutch TV news programme this week.

"It annoys me enormously," Koolmees told MPs, adding that he would investigate the matter.

Some 550 prisoners were still receiving benefits from the country's unemployment and labour agency, which falls under Koolmees' ministry, according to a study quoted by the Nieuwsuur evening news programme on Monday.

In one case a convicted drug dealer received unemployment benefits totalling 102,000 euros ($115,000), which the prisoner now has to repay in full, Nieuwsuur said.

Another detainee received 24,000 euros over 19 months -- while his address was "squarely registered as the prison", the prisoner's lawyer Rasim Kucukunal told De Volkskrant newspaper.

The erroneous benefit payments happened partly because the unemployment agency was using an outdated database, Koolmees said, adding that the problem needs to be resolved.

Koolmees told MPs he was unaware that prisoners were getting benefits and admitted that problems at the agency were "making me worried".

"What's so complicated about it? People are known, they are detained, the authorities communicate with each other and yet it goes wrong," said MP Madeleine van Toorenburg, part of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Nieuwsuur recently revealed another problem at the agency when it mistakenly continued to pay benefits to Polish workers after they left the Netherlands.