Germany: Low Crime, Clean Prisons, Lessons for America by Jeff Rosen (Transcript)

There’s kind of a sense of design and style. And the photos I’m showing you are exactly what the prison looked like when we saw it last summer.

So, if you think that, “Oh gosh, it looks immaculate, it looks cleaner than this high school,” this is how it looks, exactly how we saw it.

Again, a lot of light, a lot of natural light, a lot of light that comes in. This is looking into the dormitories where individuals live. And there’s kind of a balcony on each floor, a couple of balconies for inmates to go and get a little bit of fresh air.

The only difference is, yes, there’s bars there so someone doesn’t try to jump or try to escape. But it’s fairly pleasant, there’s a lot of grass, and it’s a feeling that’s more akin to being, frankly, on a junior college campus than it is to being in a prison. This is a hallway, and the doors on either side are where the cells are.

So I’m going to take you into a cell in just a moment here. So this is what a typical cell looks like. It’s not very large; about 100 square feet. I mean, they told us that in this thing called the metric system, which Americans don’t understand, but it’s about 100 square feet.

And you’ll see there’s a little — there will be a mattress over on the side there, a small mattress. There’s a desk, there’s a telephone, there’s a window for natural light. And there’s also an area, there’s a little partition where there’s a toilet and a sink.

Now, President Obama visited a federal state prison last summer. He went to El Reno Federal State Prison in Oklahoma, and he saw prison cells there that were about this size, the difference being, in those cells, two or three inmates would live, whereas in Germany, there’s only one.

There’s a lot less violence in German prisons than in American prisons, and part of that is because individuals are living in their own cell.

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Now, for some of you that are going to college next year, the size of this cell is very much the same size as the dormitory that I lived in when I went to UCLA. Maybe the dorm room I had was a little bit larger, but there were two of us in it.

But there’s a big difference between kind of two college students, maybe one who is a little bit too clean and one who is too messy, and having a rapist and a murderer sharing a cell this size, right?

Think about that. So…

Now, there’s little cafeteria areas on each of the floors, and there’s a little kitchen here, and we asked the German prison officials, “In that kitchen, are there knives? Are there pots and pans?”

You know, “Are there dangerous and deadly weapons, from the American perspective?”

And the German correctional officer said, “Well, of course. I mean, that’s what you’ll cook with.”

So, a much different view about what inmates should have. The German view is trying to have people live in prison the way they’ll live when they’re outside of prison. They’ll need to cook their own meals and know how to do that, so let’s have them do that here. And this is just another view of that.

Now, very interesting things about German prisons. Every year, if an inmate in prison is doing mental health counseling and going to the classes they’re supposed to go to, doing vocational training, doing all the things they’re supposed to do in prison, they’re allowed to leave the prison for a few hours or even overnight, regardless of the crime they have committed.

And every year, there are hundreds of thousands of prison leaves, what we might call “furloughs.” And out of those hundreds of thousands of leaves, we asked, “Well, how many times does an inmate not come back? How many times do they commit a crime when they’re out?”

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And the answer: out of all those leaves each year, 0.3% of inmates either don’t come back or commit a crime while they’re out. That’s three in a thousand. We don’t have anything like that in the United States.

German prisons, there are four kinds. They don’t call them “minimum,” “medium,” “maximum security.” They think that calling a facility “maximum security” will lead to violence between the inmates, and between the inmates and the staff, like everybody’s got to be tough because they’re going to maximum security.

So they have facilities where inmates were serving sentences of five years or longer, facilities where they’re serving sentences of five years or fewer, juvenile facilities — so if you commit a crime when you’re 18 years or younger, you would go to a juvenile facility, and you would do pretty much your whole sentence there.

So most of the people in the juvenile facilities are actually in their early to mid-twenties, but the Germans want to try to segregate younger offenders away from older, more hardened criminals so as not to have these younger offenders become more hardened criminals.

And number four, they have something called open prisons. An open prison is where you go when you have six months or less remaining on your sentence, and at that facility, you’re encouraged to leave during the day and look for a job and look for housing, and you just have to come back there at night.

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