Amsterdam’s Top400 project stigmatises and over-criminalises youths

A critical, in depth report on Top400 – a crime prevention project by the Amsterdam municipality – which targets and polices minors (between the ages of 12 to 23) has emphasised the stigmatising, discriminatory, and invasive effects of the Top400 on youths and their families.

Despite the devastating effects of this project as previously reported, the genuine voices, needs and experiences of youths and their parents are often excluded or ignored.

Sieving through more than 4,000 pages of documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests, the report has revealed insights into the origins, operations, and conflicts of Top400. Under the narrative of crime prevention, the report stresses how this project criminalises anti-social and teenage behaviour, instrumentalises care for crime prevention, and tests new technological approaches such as algorithmic decision-making processes on vulnerable minors and youths.

Data models are utilised to justify and normalise intrusive practices by authorities into minors and their families – these models are neither objective nor neutral, but politically informed, non-static and have a normative effect. These experimentations on data models reveal that rather than crime, it is the political desire to be “tough on crime,” and a presumed cost-efficiency which has driven the Top400 programme. In effect, the programme ends up drawing more minors (at an even earlier age) into the criminal justice system under the guise of crime prevention. These ideas have already been echoed in other accounts of predictive policing.

Mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, disagrees, and has stood by the belief that the Top 400 approach is a strong tool for youth crime prevention. The police are currently working on an updated version which focuses on privacy and ethics, involving young people. The plan is to roll out two trials in 2023.

Complex social problems, deeply rooted in a history of over-criminalisation, socio-economic and racial discrimination of certain groups in society, cannot be reduced to quick fixes, and certainly not through the lens of “privacy and ethics”. Meaningful, long-term care cannot be substituted by hostile, stigmatising crime prevention strategies, and most certainly not facilitated via the police. Fundamentally, a project such as Top400 should not be in place.

See: Top400: A top-down crime prevention strategy in Amsterdam at Data Justice Lab or download the full report.

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