No one in Michigan or the U.S., for that matter, wonders why we have prisons. They exist to punish wrongdoers. Period. Oh, sure, corrections wonks may speak of rehabilitation in abstract terms, and may create a few programs here and there, but that is clearly a side dish to the main course of American prison business: punishment.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Americans are fairly similar to people in most industrialized nations, with one glaring example. Incarceration. In Germany, there are 100 persons incarcerated for every 100,000 individuals. In the U.S., that number is 600 for every 100,000.
Prison reform is being driven by many agendas, but perhaps the most critical is cost. The huge criminal justice industry is straining many state budgets and is forcing many to examine critically a system that has been ignored for decades.
A trip by some American prison officials, prosecutors and others interested in criminal justice reform to Germany showed what might be possible. They visited German prisons and were struck by prisoners who were not warehoused in jumpsuits, who received treatment, education and skills training that would allow them to return life outside the prison.
In the words of one German official, the system’s goal is “to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility upon release.”
Prisons in Michigan could perhaps benefit from such a goal. In the U.S., the current recidivism rate is 70 percent. In Germany, it is about 33 percent.
Because few crimes receive a sentence of life without parole, this matters, because whatever they are in for, they will eventually come back out.
Source: themarshallproject.org, “Prison Without Punishment,” MAURICE CHAMMAH, September 25, 2015