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June 18, 2015

Terrific Marshall Project coverage of "How Germany Does Prison"

Germany-bug-200pxAmong the great stuff at The Marshall Project these days is a series of original pieces authored by Maurice Chammah as he and a delegation of American officials tour the German prison system. So far there have been three daily reports, and here are the full headlines and links:

Here is an excerpt from the second of these pieces, which highlights themes of the series:

[I]t was clear that this trip would be as much about the United States as about Europe. Germany’s system of sentencing (15 years is the longest most people go to prison here unless they are demonstrably dangerous) and incarceration (open, sunny prisons, full of fresh air, where prisoners wear their own clothes) serves as a reference point for reflecting on the punitive mentality that has come to define the U.S. justice system....

On Monday, as we visited Heidering Prison.... Bernie Warner, the corrections secretary of Washington, noticed the faint smell of smoke — all the prisoners can smoke here, unlike their counterparts in the U.S. Inmates live in rooms and sleep in beds, not on concrete or steel slabs with thin padding. They have privacy—correctional officers knock before entering. Prisoners wear their own clothes, and can decorate their space as they wish. They cook their own meals, are paid more for their work, and have opportunities to visit family, learn skills, and gain education. (Inmates are required to save money to ensure that they are not penniless upon release.)

There are different expectations for their corrections officers — who are drawn primarily from the ranks of lawyers, social workers, and mental health professionals to be part of a "therapeutic culture" between staff and offenders — and they consequently receive more training and higher pay. There is little to no violence — including in communal kitchens where there are knives and other potentially dangerous implements. And the maximum time inmates spend in any kind of punitive solitary is eight hours.

"Find a [security] camera,” Gregg Marcantel, the corrections secretary of New Mexico, said as he walked through the prison’s main corridor. “There aren’t any!” When he heard that prisons in Berlin have 33 physicians to care for 4,200 inmates, Marcantel’s response was a hearty, “Good God!” That’s a ratio of about 1 doctor for 127 prisoners. In Virginia's state system, according to a recent count, there was one doctor for every 750 inmates. We walked through pristine white cells that looked more like dorm rooms at a liberal arts college than the steel and concrete boxes most U.S. prisoners call home. The toilets and sinks were white and ceramic, nothing like the stainless steel bowls bolted to the wall in many U.S. prisons (Heidering Prison opened in 2013, but such toilets have been installed in older prisons as well). Most prisoners have knives and forks in their cells. Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media. “We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride....

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel. Now it was the Americans’ turn for blank stares.

Besides the surprise, other emotions lingered just below the surface. A few travelers were skeptical, and will be looking for ways in which things might be worse than they appear throughout the rest of the week.

June 18, 2015 at 08:55 AM | Permalink

Comments

With a name like mine, these are my people.

Here is Germany's rather active death penalty.


Abstract


Int J Law Psychiatry. 2013 Sep-Dec;36(5-6):386-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2013.06.018. Epub 2013 Jul 11.
Prison suicides in Germany from 2000 to 2011.
Opitz-Welke A1, Bennefeld-Kersten K, Konrad N, Welke J.

Abstract

In many countries, suicide is the most frequent cause of prison deaths; moreover, the respective national penal suicide rates are consistently several times higher than the suicide rates in the general population. To assess the situation in German prisons, an assessment of all suicides in German prisons by means of a survey was carried out for the time from 2000 to 2011. The mean rate per year of prison suicides in Germany from 2000 to 2011 was 105.8 per 100,000 male inmates and 54.7 per 100,000 female inmates. Male prisoner suicide rates significantly declined during the period under investigation; no significant trend was evident for female prisoners in pre-trial detention but a noteworthy increase was apparent in the suicide rate of female sentenced prisoners. A significant positive relationship can be demonstrated between occupation density and the suicide rate for both men and women. These results should be taken as a challenge for further research on the reasons for the unexpected increase of suicide rate in female sentenced prisoners and as well on the effect of population density on prison suicide rate.

Copyright © 2013. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

In the case of the Baader Meinhoff gang, the "suicides" were carried out all at the same time. What a coincidence, don't you think?

Here is the standard of practice in prison suicide. This is 20 years old. And the result is a tenth the suicide rate of Germany.

http://static.nicic.gov/Library/012475.pdf

The guards are therapists? My ass.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 18, 2015 9:53:19 AM

It's just a matter of time. The Baby Boomers will die off, and we can begin to rebuild and heal our society.

I think it will be an interesting matter for historians to understand this era with its cruelty and torture. In what way was the psyche of these folks damaged? Why didn't decent people stop it? It'll probably be discussed along with Salem.

Posted by: Boffin | Jun 18, 2015 10:52:20 AM

I agree with Boffin that in time we will be deemed as cruel and inhumane, our prison system akin to how slavery is treated -- an evil many will deem of a less civilized age.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 18, 2015 11:33:16 AM

Boffin. Here is something to consider. Your stupid ideas were inculcated into your naive, receptive, and child like mind by a Boomer teacher. Your stupidity is the result of Boomer propaganda, anti-Establishment, anti-capitalism, and anti-crime victim. Obama is the spawn of a dirty hippie whore. Where on earth did he get his America hating ideas? Any ideas about who taught them to him? His Boomer dirty hippie whore mother, of course.

You said nothing about the 10,000 murder victims butchered by your government dependent, government make work job generating criminals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 18, 2015 10:46:43 PM

Boffin. Here is something to consider. Your stupid ideas were inculcated into your naive, receptive, and child like mind by a Boomer teacher. Your stupidity is the result of Boomer propaganda, anti-Establishment, anti-capitalism, and anti-crime victim. Obama is the spawn of a dirty hippie whore. Where on earth did he get his America hating ideas? Any ideas about who taught them to him? His Boomer dirty hippie whore mother, of course.

You said nothing about the 10,000 murder victims butchered by your government dependent, government make work job generating criminals.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jun 18, 2015 10:46:43 PM

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