Until the nineteenth century, Veenhuizen only had a handful of houses. That changed when the ambitious general Johannes van den Bosch founded the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (Society of Humanitarianism) in 1818 in an effort to combat the vast poverty in the Netherlands. After establishing a free colony in Frederiksoord and a detention facility in Ommerschans, his eye fell upon the hamlet of Veenhuizen, where he established a second penal colony.
At the height of the Society of Humanitarianism, thousands of ‘patients’ were subjected to forced re-education in Veenhuizen. Vagrants and beggars ended up in Veenhuizen alone or with their entire families. Men, women and children were housed separately from each other in the Eerste, Tweede and Derde Gesticht (First, Second and Third Asylum). They provided for the costs of their meagre livelihood with work on the peat bog and in the three asylums.
In spite of this, the Society of Humanitarianism sank ever deeper into debt and in 1859 the Dutch government took over control of the penal colonies at Veenhuizen and Ommerschans from the Society of Humanitarianism. A number of years later, they were renamed as Rijkswerkinrichtingen (State Labour Institutions).