Inside Rikers

As a long-time serving judge in the United States, it is my observation that criminal justice in our country has lost connection with the primary intention of serving the correctional purpose with time. Conventionally, correctional facilities are avenues utilized by a state to incarcerate offenders with the intention to make them confining and rehabilitating criminals. However, with the changing attitude on crime in many countries, correctional facilities have slowly been changing to havens of torture where the intention in no longer rehabilitation but retribution. In the US, despite the country has around 5% of the world’s population, American citizen serving sentences are 25% of the world’s prisoners (Whitaker, 2016). Through an in-depth analysis of sentencing and correction practices around other First-World countries, it is clear that there is a dire need to restructure how Americans treat prisoners. This paper compares the correction and sentencing practices of the United States, Germany, Norway and Netherlands (European System) drawing crucial insights on how the American system can reshape to serve the purpose of rehabilitation rather than the prevailing norm of retribution.

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Comparison of the US System with that of Germany, the Netherlands and Norway

In the US, the sentencing practice is leaning more towards the retributive purpose where the jury is keen on splashing jail time rather than community services not to mention the long-term imprisonment period. Therefore, there is a huge population in the USA correction facility that has had huge demand to the federal funding of approximately $80 billion a year (Whitaker, 2016). On the contrary, in Germany and the Netherlands, the case is very different whereby the sentencing and correction facilities in general are more concentrated on the rehabilitation process (Subramanian & Shames, 2013). Hence, in the Germany system, the norm is that correctional facilities serve to correct offenders rather than punish them. Moreover, 75% life-sentence offenders receive parole after serving for 20 years based on one’s conformity (Whitaker, 2016). This factor is an intentional action that rests on the country’s realization that incarceration by itself is ample punishment. Besides, in Norway’s case, there is the lack of life sentence in contrast to the American sentencing and correction practice (Neanderthalcouzin, 2011). In this country, every person enjoys equal rights and these rights are similar for prisoners. Moreover, correction facilities are avenues of self-improvement to the prisoners in the country.

In the American retributive system, inmates are highly restricted from a variety of activities, with the situation being worst for the murders. In the Pennsylvania’s Graterford prison, intimates who are convicted of murder are usually locked up for almost 23 hours a day (Whitaker, 2016). Moreover, their cells are highly secured with iron enforcement to make sure that breakthrough is unheard off in the prisons (Stuntz, 2011). However, the situation for convicts in Germany and Netherlands is completely different. There is a high level of freedom whereby prisoners enjoy significant autonomy from their prison guards (Subramanian, R. & Shames, 2013). To compare, in German prisons, the cells have doors rather than metal bars like in America. Also, an intimate who was convicted for murder has even the key to his cell, while intimates even cook for themselves (Whitaker, 2016). Similarly, in Norway, prisoners have a significant degree of freedom. They are free to roam around the jail besides being engaged in constructive undertakings around the setting (Neanderthalcouzin, 2011). One of the conspicuous manners, in which the prisoners’ freedom in Norway is demonstrated, is the fact that in Bastoy Prison, which is an island, prisoners are outside all the time working just as the normal people do.

Another big difference between the American and the European system is the way the prison guards behave with inmates. In the US system, the prisoners and the prison guards are very unfriendly (Stuntz, 2011). The force is the only language the American correctional officers know and practice. Once the intimates get into the prison, the first they are informed about is who the ‘boss’ is within the prison (Watch Now!, 2016). There are tough rules that the inmates have to follow, while failure to comply with these encounters severe punishment, such as solitary confinement. However, in Germany, the interaction between the prisoner guards and inmates is very professional because the specialists are highly trained with regard to communication and psychological skills and conflict management. Besides, there is little use of power making the correctional officers to be nicknamed “calm experts” not to mention the minimal utilization of solitary confinement (Whitaker, 2016). Similarly, in Norway, the case is different from the American system where the correctional officers freely interact with the prisoners throughout the day. They do not use force, as in the case in Germany, with every effort being put in the process of rehabilitating the prisoners (Neanderthalcouzin, 2011). Inmates and prison guards are very friendly to one another and help one another in completion of daily duties.

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Violent Crime Rates, Incarceration and Recidivism Rates in the US versus Germany

The rehabilitation process aimed at minimizing the recidivism is at the heart of any criminal justice, which is a phenomenon that adds to the pain of increased crime rates and incarceration. In the USA, there is a belief that the criminal justice, and particularly the sentencing and correction practices, have failed over the time and changes are needed (Whitaker, 2016). On the contrary, Germany is performing better than the United States in regard to violent crime rates, incarceration and recidivism rates. To illustrate, based on the US case study undertaken by Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the scholars tracked the progress of 404 prisoners after being released from prisons and found that 67.8% were rearrested within 3 years of freedom, while 76.6% after 5 years (Atlantic Review Editors, 2006). Moreover of all those rearrested, 56.7% were arrested at the end of the first year after being released. Besides, the study emphasized that property offenders attracted the highest chance of being rearrested comprising 82.1% from released criminals in this group. To compare, drug offenders had a 76.9%, public order offender 73.6% and violent offenders 71.3% likelihood of rearresting (Atlantic Review Editors, 2006). With the extremely high recidivism levels, the above statistics demonstrates how the American criminal justice has failed to rehabilitee the inmates.

In Germany, the country experiences lower crime and recidivism rates (half that of America) not to mention lower budget spending on the prison services, which has become a phenomenon that has seen an influx of American administrators go to Germany for benchmarking. Concerning incarceration, the USA has the largest number of prisoners compared to any other country taking a 25% share of all prisoners in the world (Subramanian & Shames, 2013). This is an issues that has been brought around by the policy of “tough on crime” which has been the norm for the last 30 years. In Germany, the small crime offenders get probation and fines while in America, jail time is usually the norm of the system (Whitaker, 2016). However, the good performance of Germany over the US is most vividly evident in the recidivism rates since with increased recidivism rate, the other parameters are usually on the rise. A good illustration is the findings by the BJS where more than half of released offenders in America were rearrested for new crimes. Moreover, according to Atlantic Review Editors (2006), there are approximately 17,000 murders annually. With a reference to 2005, in the USA alone, there were 16,900 victims compared to 794 cases in Germany (Atlantic Review Editors, 2006).

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Therefore, Germany is better placed on matters of criminal justice and much need to be done in the United States’ system to reform it in a manner that helps the prisoners instead of punishing them. Moreover, it is evident that the correction facilities in America are ineffective to help the inmates and US Sentencing Commission needs to rethink the norm of the “touch on crime” regime where the human aspect of the process has been suppressed. With the case of Germany leaving jail only for the worst criminals, the US Sentencing Commission has to utilize this approach to reduce the incarceration rates. This factor will help in taming the overpopulation in prisons and optimally reliving the government expenditures.

Moreover, there is a need for the commission to come up with different parole policies aimed at reprimanding the petty cases with the exception of murder and drug-related crimes. Besides, there is a necessity for the commission to develop the rehabilitating policies in prisons to ensure that the inmates are helped and not tortured while serving their sentences. This approach will help in improving the recidivism rates among offenders. Therefore, more effort needs to be channeled towards promoting the rehabilitative arm of the correction facilities that is a role that has been neglected in the American criminal justice for long. In general, the US Sentencing Commission needs to ensure that the rights of inmates are protected by ensuring that the correction facilities and sentencing practices in America reflect the norms of the entire American society.

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