German Criminal Justice

Today I attended my first League of Women’s Voters meeting and the two speakers presented information on how Germany handles juvenile offenders. Dignity is the hallmark of the German system. The speakers said that in Germany:

  • People under 14 can’t be put in jail.
  • People up to age 21 are assigned to the Juvenile Justice system.
  • While on the outside the structures looked like prisons, inside they looked like community college campuses.
  • When in prison, from the start, the goal is to prepare the inmates for successful life outside.
  • Inmates either work on vocational training or a high school diploma.
  • Everyone gets their own room and a key to it. They can open their cell doors to enter, but a guard must let them out.
  • People in prison can decorate their cells with pictures.
  • There’s a system for inmates to shop online using the allowance they receive each month from the government.
  • Guards wear street clothes, not uniforms. They are not armed.
  • Guards study for tw0 years to qualify for their jobs.
  • The interior spaces looked bright and clean.
  • Inmates can use a communal kitchen.
  • They can watch whatever TV shows they like.
  • There’s a farm they can learn to work.
  • Because the prison personnel believe drugs will get in to the jail one way or another, there’s a box for used needles and a way to get clean ones. (That was too progressive for me.)
  • Recidivism is much lower than in the US.
  • When first sent to jail, inmates are examined and assessed to determine how they may be affected by mental illness. If they have psychological problems they’re sent to another facility.
  • As for women’s prisons, offenders with small children can keep them with them until the child reaches age 3.
  • Even in solitary confinement, you have a window to look out and see trees, the sky, nature.

It was a fascinating talk, and some of these practices can be tested in our prisons. If these changes could impart dignity and reduce recidivism, they’re worth a try.