Penal Reform International is sad to note the death of Professor Hans Tulkens, a dedicated prison reformer, first chairperson of PRI, long-serving PRI Board Member and Honorary President.
Hans Tulkens, picture from Tulkens’ family
Professor Tulkens was one of the most distinguished prison reformers of his generation. He was appointed director of the Netherlands Prison Service in 1975 and rapidly became known well beyond his own country for his humane approach to the treatment of prisoners, coupled with a clear understanding that imprisonment should be imposed only as a last resort. After his term as Director of Prisons came to an end in 1985, he became Professor of Penology at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. In his influential inaugural lecture in 1988, Graden van Vrijheid [Degrees of Freedom] Hans Tulkens made a powerful case for the recognition of the essential humanity of prisoners. He argued for a differentiated system of small prison units that would allow prisoners to develop and to be reintegrated into society by gradually allowing them more freedom.
Professor Tulkens travelled widely and gave support to other reform minded prison administrators, often working within inter-governmental organisations such as the Council of Europe and the international Penal and Penitentiary Council. This experience of the value of international cooperation led him to see the need for an international non-governmental organisation to drive forward efforts to reform prison systems around the world. He played a key role in the establishment of Penal Reform Internationalin November 1989.
Professor Tulkens was the first Chair of PRI and committed himself wholeheartedly to building the organisation, to gaining international support for its work from governments, funders and individuals and to defining its concrete objectives. The fact that PRI continues to flourish is in great part due to the solid foundations he laid. PRI continues as a lasting reminder of his remarkable contribution to penal reform around the world.
Hans Tulkens will be remembered as a man who lived out his ideals by applying them to penal practice wherever he could. His idealism was reflected in the groups he brought together in his own home to explore new ways of dealing with the penal process.
The Prison Show dedicated its podcast of 24 April 2020 to Hans Tulkens. Listen to the show in Dutch. Please also read the tribute in memory of Hans Tulkens published by Forum Levenslang in Dutch.
We are mourning the death of Hans Tulkens as a friend to many at PRI. As an organisation, we will aspire to live up to the ideals he brought to PRI.
Baroness Vivien Stern
Dirk van Zyl Smit