From a penal colony to a state labour institution to a penitentiary institution – Veenhuizen has come a long way. The inmates that populated the colony in their thousands in the early days were not criminals, but paupers who had fallen on hard times. Illness, poverty and hunger played a major role in their ‘degeneration’. The philosophy behind the establishment of the colony was to fight poverty. With labour, the colonists could provide for themselves and re-education was intended to prevent them from landing back in the gutter. This was not always successful by any means; the relapse rate was high and in old documents there is a lot of grumbling about the about ‘idle carousers’ among them, who would rather be lazy than tired.
In the twentieth century, Veenhuizen increasingly took on the character of a penitentiary. What was unusual is that the community regime was maintained until into the 1960s. The prisoners were not held in cells, but lived as a group. For this, they had to be ‘fit for community’ and not pose a flight risk.
Only after the departure of the very last inmate, Rinus de Vet, in 1973, did the state erect high fences around the prisons and the penitentiaries of today, where detainees serve out their sentences behind fences, walls and barbed wire.