Germany’s progressive treatment of its youth offenders in its criminal justice system leads to fewer youths in adult prisons, lower recidivism, and lesser sentences.
“Germany is probably the ‘grandfather’ of special treatment for emerging adults in all of Europe. In 1953, German law was changed to allow youth up to age 21 when they committed their offense to be tried as juveniles,” The Crime Report reported.
As a result of this approach, 66 percent of emerging adults who committed a crime were sentenced as juveniles. This includes more than 90 percent of those who had committed homicide and rape, according to The Crime Report.
Under juvenile law in Germany, those age 18 and under cannot be tried or sentenced under adult law.
However, “young people can receive sentences of up to 10 years. But they rarely do. Fewer than 1 percent receive sentences of five to 10 years; fewer than 5 percent receive sentences of between three and five years,” the Crime Report reported.
What is the net effect of this lenient approach toward offenders?
Incarceration rate in Germany is nine times lesser than the U.S. (76 per 100,000 vs. 693 per 100,000) according to The Crime Report.
Their lower incarceration rate is attributed to their approach toward criminal justice.
“The German system prioritizes diversion and minimized interventions, mediation and restorative practices, and educational community sanctions. Community service and direct payments can be geared to repaying victims through labor or even direct compensation. Deprivation of liberty is a last resort,” according to The Crime Report.
“Children (under 14 years), juveniles (14-17) and young adults (18-20) have the right to support and education and to be protected in their personal development by the child and youth welfare agencies.”
The rehabilitative nature of Germany’s youth system is modeled by its Young Offender Institution at Neustrelitz Prison.
According to the Report, it’s not easy for a youth to be given a prison term in Germany, so when one is sent to Neustrelitz, they tend to be in for violent offenses. Unlike penal institutions in America, youths there are offered an assortment of vocational programming like woodworking, metal working, culinary instruction and farming.
Youths in the facility are also served tasty meals with real knives and forks, “Nowhere was there the sense of fear and heavy correctional hardware, such as pepper spray, solitary confinement, and strip searching, that dominates the U.S. correctional landscape,” according to The Crime Report.
“Clearly, there are substantial cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe…No one expects to go to Croatia, Germany, and the Netherlands and borrow their systems wholesale…” but that doesn’t mean that we have nothing to learn,” the article added.