As the US prison population continues to rise and recidivism rates remain high, one state is about to see its number of inmates drop to its lowest rate since 1993 by drawing inspiration from Germany’s criminal justice system.
For comparison, 78 out of every 100,000 people in Germany are incarcerated. In the US, the number is more than 8 times higher at 655.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (pictured above right) held a first-of-its-kind event on Wednesday, discussing prison reform with officials and inmates at the Cheshire Correctional Institute, taking the unprecedented step of opening the maximum security prison in the town of Cheshire to public scrutiny by inviting the press and officials from across the country.
The centerpiece of Connecticut’s push to end mass incarceration is Cheshire’s pilot program TRUE, which pairs 18- to 25-year-old inmates with older mentors and focuses on education and the development of useful skills.
TRUE is the brainchild of the criminal justice NGO Vera, who openly cites Germany and the Netherlands as role models for their programs, and has sent representatives to do on-site visits to determine how Germany got one of the lowest prison populations in the world.
According to the organization’s website, it seeks to import Germany’s “human rights-based approach,” by making prison life “as similar as possible to life in the community,” and “organized around central tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation,” rather than retribution.
One young inmate, Jordan, wrote on Vera’s website of how unusual it was to be treated with dignity, and of how the program was “going to make me into a leader and give me the skills I need to become successful upon my release.”
Two February 2018 reports from Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management indicate that the new model is working. By January 2019, the state’s number of inmates is set to drop below 13,000 (in a state of about 3.6 million) for the first time since September 1993.
The recidivism rate has also been steadily decreasing. Calculating based on inmates being re-arrested within three years of leaving prison, the 2014 cohort was at 55 percent, down from 61 percent for the 2005 group. And both are far below the US average, which is 68 percent within three years and a staggering 77 percent within five years according to the Justice Department.