As states continue to rethink outdated assumptions, they would be wise to pay close attention to European counterparts.
New York Times Editorial Board

Vera’s first tour abroad in 2013—known as the European-American Prison Project—partnered with the Prison Law Office and worked with three state teams from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to tour prisons in Germany and the Netherlands. The initiative contained three phases:

  • Each state team held a two-day conference with corrections staff and other key stakeholders—including site visits to correctional facilities and meetings with prison administrators—aimed at informing the teams of their current corrections systems.
  • The teams then spent one week in Germany and the Netherlands visiting corrections facilities and engaging in roundtable discussions with European corrections officials and policymakers to exchange successful ideas and strategies.
  • Following the visit to Europe, each state held a debriefing session to strategize on the implications of the European models for their own state corrections policies.

Vera’s second delegation abroad in 2015—part of the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange—was developed in partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Vera and John Jay led a delegation of correctional, policy, and advocacy leaders on a 4-day tour of German prisons that included meetings with European criminal justice practitioners, service providers, and criminologists. The knowledge gleaned from the trip and the responses of participants was broadly disseminated via a robust media and public education campaign, which aimed to elevate the national discussion on U.S. sentencing and corrections policy.

Both tours found dramatic differences between the use of incarceration and conditions of confinement in the U.S. and Europe—including a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation, not retribution—in German prisons. As a result of these observations, corrections officials and lawmakers have enacted concrete reforms in both Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

One cannot be re-socialized or rehabilitated if there is little or no opportunity to interact with the free world, whether through employment, family engagement, or study.
Nicholas Turner
President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice