The following script is from
"Crime and Punishment" which aired on April 3, 2016. Bill Whitaker is
the correspondent. Marc Lieberman, producer.
issues can unite Democrats and Republicans. But criminal justice reform is one
of them. After 30 years of being Tough on Crime in the U.S., no other
nation incarcerates more of its citizens than we do. We have five percent of
the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. The cost of housing
all those inmates: $80 billion a year.
that American politicians and prison supervisors are looking for new ideas --
The main objective of German prisons is rehabilitation, not retribution. Germany spends
less money on prisons, but gets better results. Their recidivism rate is about
half the U.S.
rate. We wondered if Germany
had found a key to prison reform. So we visited three German prisons, but our
trip started in a small resort town about 100 miles north of Berlin.
weather's warm, the lakeside town of Waren, Germany,
attracts families and tourists. We found Bernd Junge there with his sister and
niece -- out for a stroll, eating ice cream sundaes -- an innocent scene if
ever there was one. But Junge is a convicted murderer, currently serving a life
sentence for a contract killing. He shot a woman to death in cold blood. We
spoke with him by the lake.
Whitaker: This is part of your sentence. This is part of your punishment?
Junge: Well this is about being reintegrated into a normal life and that means
rehabilitation and all that, so for me, yes, this is part of it.
Whitaker: This doesn't look much like punishment.
Junge: Yes, well that's the German fairy tale.
years in prison he's earned weekend leave for good behavior. He's on track for
early release. In Germany,
75 percent of lifers are paroled after 20 years or less.
Jesse: If someone says to himself it's a German fairy tale, if he doesn't
commit any crimes anymore after release, it's OK. He can think about his
imprisonment, what he wants.
Jesse is a psychologist by training. He's now director of prisons in
Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a state in north Germany
along the Baltic, about the size of New
Hampshire. There are rich fields here, brilliant
sunsets, and Waldeck -- the maximum-security prison where Bernd Junge is
Whitaker: Should he have a future for himself? He took a life.
Jesse: Yes, he should.
Whitaker: He should?
Jesse: He should.
invited us to Waldeck to show us how the German system works.
Jesse: The real goal is reintegration into society, train them to find a
different way to handle their situation outside, life without further crimes,
life without creating new victims, things like that.
Whitaker: Where does punishment come in?
Jesse: The incarceration, the imprisonment itself is punishment. The loss of
freedom, that's it.
Whitaker: I think Americans think crime and punishment. You say punishment is
not even part of the goal of the German prison.
Whitaker: At all?
Jesse: Not at all.
inside prison mirrors life outside as much as possible. Germans call it "normalization."
It starts with small prison populations. Low-level offenders get fines or
probation. Prison is reserved for the worst of the worst -- murderers, rapists,
career criminals. We were surprised how quiet and peaceful it was inside Waldeck.
We wondered where all the inmates were. It turns out they were relaxing outside
on this sunny day.
Whitaker: This is unbelievable. You're in for murder and you have a key to your
have doors, not bars. It's for privacy. Inmates can decorate as they please. We
saw Joerg Muehlbach playing video games in his cell. He told us he was
convicted of large-scale cocaine trafficking and gun possession. He's serving
Whitaker: Compared to cells in the United States this is quite luxurious.
Muehlbach: Yes, it is comfortable here. As a prisoner here it's alright.
being separated from his family makes prison hard, not the conditions. He has a
private bathroom and things that would give American prison guards the jitters.
Whitaker: You have darts. You've got a letter opener. You have legs on the
table that you could break off and use as a club. You've got quite a bit of
freedom in here?
Muehlbach: Gosh, I haven't even thought about that. Here this is normal.
day is normal too. He gets up and goes to work in the prison kitchen. After his
shift, there's R&R -- darts in the common room, beach volleyball in the
yard. There's a lot to do, he told us.
Muehlbach: Yes, painting and crochet. And in crochet we make hats, oven mitts,
whatever you need.
visited several German prisons and were amazed how laid back everybody seemed
at each of them -- prisoners and guards. Heidering Prison outside Berlin is as clean and
bright as a Google campus. The prison is surrounded by fences, not walls, so
inmates can see the outside world. The prison uniform? Street clothes. For the
inmate who finds this too stressful, there's yoga.
Whitaker: This probably isn't the image that comes to mind when most Americans
think of German prisons. That's likely to conjure up brutal images from World
War II. But following that war, respect for the human dignity and freedom of
all people was written into the German constitution. Privacy is sacrosanct.
There is no death penalty.
facilities like Tegel in Berlin,
or new ones like Heidering, the focus is on humane treatment and
rehabilitation. Prison guards are key. They're well paid and highly trained --
they spend two years learning psychology, communication skills, conflict
management. Jesse calls them "calm down" experts.
Jesse: Calming down, calming down, calming down. Not showing power too much.
Not showing guns. Not showing weapons.
solitary confinement, sparingly. Jesse says there's little violence in German
Whitaker: How do you explain that?
Jesse: If you treat them as if they are your enemy, they will react as enemies.
They will react as dangerous.
Whitaker: In fact, many of them are dangerous. We we're up there on a row where
everyone you ask was in for murder, murder, murder.
Jesse: They're all human beings, and they know a violent manner. And we do
exactly the other way around. "Don't be aggressive." Show them that
there is a different kind of conversation possible.
conversation starts right away. It's based on therapy. Psychologists make an
initial assessment of all new inmates and devise personalized prison plans for
them: recommendations for counseling, classes, vocational training and work.
Inmates who follow the plan earn greater freedoms and early release.
Jesse: We cannot see the sense in just locking people up for their whole lives.
Your prisons will fill up and you'll have to build new prisons and so on and I
think that was the situation in the U.S.
than 2 million inmates in U.S.
prisons, more Americans are coming to Germany seeking solutions.
[American tour: It's like a dorm.
This would be a nice dorm room for the Ivy League.]
U.S. prison and law
enforcement officials on this tour in Berlin.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy was part of the group. He was impressed by
what he saw.
Malloy: I can tell you, they have a lower crime rate than we do. They have a
lower recidivism rate than we do, and they're spending a lot less money on
Whitaker: In the U.S., we've got much greater access to guns. We've got-- race
as a factor and ethnicity as a factor. Are the things being done here directly
transferrable to the United
Malloy: I think there are many things that are transferrable. That doesn't mean
that it's a perfect fit. But I think we have to challenge ourselves to do
Whitaker: This doesn't have the same vibe, doesn't feel like the prisons in Germany at all.
Wetzel: Little bit more intense, maybe.
Whitaker: Little bit more intense.
Wetzel is Pennsylvania's
Secretary of Corrections. Three years ago, he went to Germany looking
for ideas to improve his prisons. He showed us around Graterford, outside Philadelphia. It's the
largest maximum-security prison in Pennsylvania
-- 3,300 prisoners are packed in here. We were walking through an 80-year-old
cell block when this inmate approached. He said he was a low level drug
Sometimes, it be leaking on the block, people dying in their cells, the water
stinks. Did you smell the water? Water smells like it's coming out of the sewer
Wetzel: You're preaching to the choir. I've done as much as I could for...
I mean, for real, there ain't nothin' but poor black and Latino people in the
jail. It's bad in here man, its bad.
Wetzel: Yeah? I mean look around.
started as a prison guard three decades ago. Back in 1980, there were 8,000
inmates in the state. Today, there are 50,000. Physical and sexual assaults are
a fact of life. At Graterford, there are more than 700 lifers.
a state where life means life. So, if you're doing life here you're not gonna
be walking around a park-- eating sundaes with your family.
Wetzel was in Germany,
Joerg Jesse gave him a tour of Waldeck.
Whitaker: You were skeptical.
Wetzel: It almost sounded like Disneyland.
"Oh, there's very few inmates. Inmates have their own keys and everybody
gets along and everything's hunky-dory." I mean, who's buying that story?
end of his visit, Wetzel was buying it. He started implementing some of the
things he saw in Germany,
like more intensive staff training, greater freedom for inmates with good
behavior and programs to help them reenter society.
Whitkaer: We, the American public, called for tougher sentencing, throwing away
the key. Are we there for this more lenient approach?
Wetzel: I think our culture, we don't want to think lenient. We don't want to
think soft. We got here by being tough on crime. I think we're getting away
from it by being smart on crime, and smart on crime happens to be more lenient.
Germans think their prisons are too lenient. But the system is mandated and
protected by the country's highest court. There are problems. They have gangs.
They have drugs. They've seen signs of Islamic radicalization. They try to
counter it all with counseling.
are inmates deemed too dangerous to release. They wind up in something called
preventive detention. At Berlin's
Tegel prison we met Chris Templiner. He has spent the last 18 years not knowing
when or if he'll ever get out.
Templiner: They think I'm dangerous so what can I say? What can I show them? I
Whitaker: You did bad things?
Templiner: Really bad things, yes.
wouldn't tell us his crimes and German privacy laws kept us from finding out. His
life is confined to this well-appointed, apartment-like building. Look around,
this is life in prison for Germany's
Whitaker: You expect to be here until you die?
Templiner: Maybe. Yes.
convicted murderer Bernd Junge expects to get out in September. He stuck to his
plan and earned the freedom to leave prison every day for work - a maintenance
job at the nearby port.
Whitaker: You could escape if you wanted to.
Whitaker: But you don't?
Whitaker: Why not?
Junge: Very simple. My time is almost over. And I want to be done with this
chapter of my life, once and for all.
Graterford prison, this is where murderers are housed - locked up 23 hours a day.
[Death row: I'm still hungry.
Wetzel: I think more now than any time in the history of our country we have
the right and left agree that we've-- frankly screwed up the corrections system
for 30 years and it's time to do something different. It really starts with
understanding that, you know, a human being's value isn't diminished by being
Whitaker: What you're talking about requires a huge mind shift on the part of
all of us.
Wetzel: It's crossing the Grand Canyon is what
we're talking about.