European-American Prison Project


The European-American Prison Project aims to advance an international dialogue around what works in corrections, influence the beliefs and attitudes of important stakeholders, and stimulate reform efforts in the United States.

Funded by the Prison Law Office, the project is working with three state teams—from Colorado, Georgia and Pennsylvania—and with partners in Germany and the Netherlands to advance an international dialogue around what works in corrections, influence the beliefs and attitudes of important stakeholders, and stimulate reform efforts in the United States. State team members include directors of corrections departments, state legislators, judges, district attorneys and other criminal justice stakeholders.

The project has three components:

  • State conferences (December 2012 – January 2013). Each state team was joined by corrections staff and other key stakeholders during a two-day conference. Through site visits to correctional facilities and meetings with prison administrators, teams learned more about their respective corrections system.
  • Visit to Europe (February 2013). The state teams spent one week in Germany and the Netherlands visiting correctional facilities and engaging in roundtable discussions with European corrections officials and policymakers to exchange ideas and share successful strategies.
  • Debriefing Sessions (April – May 2013). Following the visit to Europe, debriefing sessions were held to allow each state team to strategize about the implications of the European models for their respective state corrections policies.

Why explore European corrections policies and practices?

Over the past four decades, state sentencing and corrections policies in the U.S. have relied heavily on the use of prisons to combat crime, resulting in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world (716 per 100,000 residents). Yet, recidivism rates have remained high over the last 20 years—hovering at a rate of 40 percent of those released from prison getting rearrested within three years of release. This suggests that current sentencing policies and prison practices in the U.S. are in need of some reevaluation.

In contrast, there is a much greater use in Europe of non-custodial penalties for non-violent crimes. For example, German and Dutch law encourages, and in certain cases requires, the use of alternative sanctions, including day fines, restitution, and community service orders. This has resulted in significantly lower incarceration rates in these countries: 79 per 100,000 residents in Germany; and 82 per 100,000 residents in the Netherlands. In addition, because of a primary focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, practices and conditions within correctional facilities in many European countries differ markedly from those in the U.S.

Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States
Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes. In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries—grounded in the principle...
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It was gratifying to read Vera’s recent report concerning the sentencing and incarceration practices in Germany and the Netherlands—practices described as “organized around the central tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation”—as they are closely aligned with the practices adopted by the...
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Tom Clements with Don Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, on a recent trip to tour European prisons The Vera Institute of Justice mourns the loss of Tom Clements, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was shot and killed at his home on March 19, 2013. The Vera...
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