That’s what this article from the New York Times suggests, and though I know virtually nothing about prisons there, I have read a book, A Land Fit for Criminals, about the British criminal justice system and if that is a reflection of the European one, we want nothing to do with it, as this quote from the book demonstrates: “Social scientists, civil servants and Ministers of the Crown have conspired for decades to deceive the public about the state of law and order. The have consistently underestimated the level and severity of crime. They have insisted on the efficacy of methods of crime prevention and control which patently do not work. They have stubbornly persisted with utopian theories of crime, criminality and punishment which fail entirely to take account of human nature and social reality. They have routinely belittled the everyday concerns about crime of the man and woman in the street. They have condescendingly denigrated the genuine understanding of criminality provided by commonsensical experience. They have rubbished the real expertise about law and order—based on daily involvement with the destructive effects of crime—of police officers, magistrates, probation officers and local councilors. Modern criminology constitutes a tissue of pseudo-liberal prejudice and counter-productive phoney knowledge. Contemporary penal policy comprises a vast body of misconceived and nonsensical doctrine which has the effect of exculpating criminals, punishing victims and escalating social collapse.” (p. xi)
An excerpt from the New York Times article.
In February, a group of American corrections officials, judges, prosecutors and public defenders spent a week visiting prisons in Germany and the Netherlands. Those countries incarcerate people at about one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone.
A new report based on the group’s research suggests that European sentencing and penal practices may provide useful guidance in the growing effort to reform an American prison system buckling under its own weight.
The American and European systems differ in almost every imaginable way, beginning with their underlying rationale for incarceration. Under German law, the primary goal of prison is “to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.” Public safety is ensured not simply by separating offenders from society, but by successfully reintegrating them.
To this end, inmates are given a remarkable level of control over their lives and their personal privacy. Some wear their own clothes and prepare their own meals. They interact with staff trained not only in prison security, but in educational theory and conflict management.