Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands
Implications for the United States
The U.S. prison population has increased 700 percent in the last 40 years, and state corrections expenditures reached $53.5 billion in 2012. Despite this massive investment in incarceration, the national recidivism rate remains at a stubborn 40 percent— meaning that four in 10 incarcerated people will return to prison within three years of release. To learn how other countries deal with corrections and sentencing, Vera led a delegation of state officials from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania on a trip to Germany and the Netherlands to tour those countries’ prisons, speak with corrections officials, and interact with inmates. This report details their experiences on the tour and the impact it has had on policy discussions and public debate on prison reform in the U.S.
Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates compared to the U.S. Their systems have a number of different philosophical and practical approaches that could have implications for reform at home.
One of the biggest differences in German and Dutch prisons is the focus on “normalization”: making life in prison as similar as possible to life in the community.
German and Dutch prison systems are organized around central tenets of resocialization and rehabilitation. The U.S. system is organized around the central tenets of incapacitation and retribution.
Incarceration is used less frequently and for shorter periods of time in Germany and the Netherlands. Both countries rely heavily on fines or other community-based sentences, not prison sentences.
The U.S. incarceration rate is 693 per 100,000 residents
—compared to 76 per 100,000 in Germany, and 69 per 100,000 in the Netherlands.
The average U.S. prison sentence is three years.
In the Netherlands and Germany, 91 percent and 75 percent of prison sentences,
respectively, are one year or less.
In the U.S., the increased use of prison over the last four decades
is only marginally related to the reduction in crime.