A group of corrections professionals from across America, including Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Corrections John E. Wetzel, toured several prisons in Germany and the Netherlands last year. Wetzel, a lifelong corrections professional, recently shared his observations: The prime directive in the European correctional system was simple: ensuring that incarceration would not further damage an individual. This philosophy impacted everything from placement decisions to the presumption of privacy and discipline for prison misconduct. Success for this environment includes making decisions for the use of incarceration, based solely on the risk and needs of offenders, as well as having a consistency of purpose between jail and supervision after they leave custody, and less likely to commit another crime. To maintain their unique environment for positive change, the Germans trained high-quality, professional staff with one goal: improving these individuals. Learning from the Europeans, Pennsylvania has started re-engineering our entire training system - shifting the focus to skills such as communication, motivational interviewing and conflict resolution. Additionally, transitional housing units have been added throughout our system, staffed by officers who can help prepare inmates for success after release. The key physical difference in facilities can be summed up in one word: density. A Pennsylvania institution for youthful offenders has five times the number of inmates as a comparative facility in Germany. While the European prison model is therefore significantly more costly, it can be achieved by having all decisions driven by the goal to create an environment conducive to improving the outcome of corrections.

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