A note from Vera Institute of Justice, D.C.:
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes broadcast a comparison of American and German prison systems that featured a bipartisan tour of the German system led by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice last summer. The week-long tour brought leaders such as Connecticut Governor Dannell Malloy, state corrections officials, district attorneys, researchers, formerly incarcerated advocate Shaka Senghor, and representatives from Right on Crime and the Charles Koch Institute to Germany to learn from a justice system rooted in human dignity. Only 5 percent of those convicted in Germany spend time behind bars for much shorter sentences than they would typically serve in the U.S. Set up to approximate life in the community as much as possible, German prisons focus on rehabilitation and resocialization rather than retribution.
Building on the lessons of this trip and Vera’s ongoing work to reform conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons, we are pleased to announce the Reimagining Prison Project, a new initiative to envision a smaller American correctional system that places human dignity at its philosophical and operational core, while also promoting public safety, successful reentry, and transparency. The American experiment with mass incarceration has failed, and current efforts to reduce the flow of people into jails and prisons are vital to creating a much smaller incarceration footprint. Reimagining Prison will produce a plan to drastically transform how we treat those incarcerated by shifting the goal and culture of incarceration from retribution to rehabilitation, ultimately producing stronger and safer communities.
The project builds on Vera’s ongoing work on condition of confinement and the work of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons* convened by Vera a decade ago. We invite your participation and welcome your input throughout this process. Watch this space for details to be announced soon.
*More than a decade ago, the Vera convened the bipartisan Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, which released Confronting Confinement, a detailed report of what it found in America’s prisons—including high levels of violence, lack of programming, substandard health care, the inappropriate use of segregation, and lack of oversight, transparency, and accountability—and related recommendations. A decade later, we are reminded that while many of the Commission’s recommendations helped spur important reforms, many remain relevant for those incarcerated and those charged with their care. More than 95 percent of people in our prisons will return to our communities, yet 55 percent will end up back behind bars within five years.