I am doing time!

Yes, I am still in jail!

Ever wondered about the history of the jail? Where does it get its name? Read on…..

The jail has been there since 1856 and opened its doors on 1st July – it is located on the bolwerk (earthen defensework) Wolvenburg – the Wolvenburg dates from approximately 1580. The jail has only single cells and at this time is the oldest “single cell” jail in The Netherlands. There are three wings – two of them were for 117 men and in the third wing there were 19 cells for women.

It was extended in 1877 and after this date only housed male inmates. The church was added in 1903. In 1914 the strict prison regime was relaxed as keeping inmates in isolation in their own cells lead to mental health issues and this was considered no longer acceptable in the current social climate.  Larger rooms were built and inmates could work together – eye contact could not be prevented but talking amongst themselves was not allowed.

During the German occupation of The Netherlands in World War II, the Germans used it as a prison for political prisoners, saboteurs and spreaders of forbidden literature. They were guarded by Dutch SS soldiers and members of the NSB (Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging – it was a Dutch political party from 1931 until 1945). After the war, the tables were turned and Germans and NSB became the inmates. Also the mayor of Utrecht was held prisoner during WWII accused of collaboration.

After the war there were sweeping changes to penal system and the strict cellular system was abolished. In 1951 it became a House of Detention (suspects were locked up until their trial and those with a short custodial sentence were also included). In the 1970s rules were relaxed even more with shower rooms, living rooms, sports activities and classrooms were added, inmates could wear their own clothes, and cook meals – the name prison was renamed Penitentiary Institution. There was more relaxed interaction between the inmates and staff. Despite the relaxation of rules, drug-related crime meant many inmates were addicts.

In the year 2000 there was a major refurbishment–  electronic surveillance,  prison bars were replaced with security windows in each cell and 10 years after application, the building was given protected status

In 2013 the prison was deemed to be uneconomical and inefficent and was officically closed in 2014. By the time of the closure, 124 persons (men and women) were imprisoned there.

The Council of Utrecht rented the cells out to small business owners, there was an escape room and and a catering company. In 2021 it was sold to a commercial company and there are plans to transform it into a hotel, apartments, restaurant and work spaces –  plans are scheduled to be completed in 2023 and it is hoped the project will come to realisation in 2025.

Famous prisoners:

Herman Brood – possession of drugs in the 70s

Gerrit Kouwenaar – during the occupation distribution of communist newspaper De Waarheid

Cornelis van Ravenswaay – imprisoned after the war – mayor of Utrecht 1942 to 1945 as fanatical national socialist

Where does the name “Wolvenplein” come from?

Under the leadership of Karel V in 1580 five strongholds were built: De Wolvenburg, Het Lucasbolwerk, Het Mariabolwerk and Het Begijnebolwerk and De Lepelenburg. Wolvenburg was built in the northeast of the citry centre and was named after Wolf Tower which was south of the city wall. The towers of the city walls all had names of animals hence the name Wolf. So the prison was built on the Wolvenburg so it seemed obvious to give it the name Wolvenplein.