This study paper seeks to establish a comparative analysis between German and American correctional systems. It then passes a considered opinion of the writer as to which correctional system is more effective and justifiable. In addition to it, an opinion on whether any elements of the American correctional system could be amended to bring it in line with the aspects of correction practices in Germany is also considered.
Type of System and Institutions
Unlike the United States of America, Germany does not have a Federal Police force that interferes with state police powers, and most of the law enforcement vests with individual states that are accountable for managing most of the duties and responsibilities of the police force. “Each state has its police force known as the Landespolizei (State Police). Each state has a code that lays down the organization and duties of its police. (Landespolizeigesetz or Sicherheits- und Ordnungsgesetz).” (Law enforcement in Germany, n.d., para.8).
During Nazi rule, the people of Germany had been terrorized victims of the dictatorial regime under Adolf Hitler and his Secret Service (SS) Gestapo Police Force. After the reunification of Western and Eastern Germany in 1989, the Federal Republic of Germany with decentralized law and order enforcement came into vogue. “Criminals who have never been imprisoned (or were imprisoned for a maximum of three months) are generally assigned to prisons for first-time offenders (Erstvollzug). Recidivists are assigned to so-called regular imprisonment (Regelvollzug). People who receive long sentences are imprisoned at a maximum-security prison (Langstrafenanstalt). Special institutions are also provided for female and juvenile prisoners and those with special health or psychiatric needs. The German Staatsanwaltschaft or public prosecutorâ€™s offices are criminal justice bodies attached to the judiciary but separate from the courts.” (Prisons in Germany, 2005, para.3).
Population and Privatization
It is believed that the rate of crime, punishment, and sentences to correctional units in the US is much higher than those prevalent in Germany.
The level of security in correctional institutions in Germany is indeed robust and could severely deter any potential criminal. “In the US, children as young as 13 are often tried as adults for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in adult facilities, and 16-year-olds can and are sentenced to death (this latter practice was finally stopped by the Supreme Court in 2005). In Germany, children under 14 cannot be punished at all, and juveniles under 18 cannot be sentenced as adults. People under 21 can be treated as juveniles if the court finds them to be immature.” (Boldt, 2008, para.26).
Prison life in the US could be harsh and unaccommodating, especially if it is an offense without scope for parole. However, in Germany, the laws are more flexible and offer first-time offenders and others a chance for rehabilitation and correction, if they show good conduct and maintain the correctional law norms and rules.
Viewpoint on Rehabilitation and Programs
It is believed that the rehabilitation programs in Germany are more comprehensive and enforceable than in the case of the United States, especially in serious crimes. The German laws eschew common law which, paradoxically bulwarks laws in the US, and is less complex and more practical oriented than American criminal justice laws. Besides, there is less emphasis on jury systems (widespread in the US) and individual judges do most of the decision making and sentencing. The question of hanging does not arise, in most German courts.
Law Enforcement System
The Federation is broken up into 16 Federal States (Laender), each of which possesses its police and law enforcement system and each organized differently. German Constitutional Laws provide enforcement is very much a state jurisdictional matter rather than falling within the ambit of Federal Government.
The degree of autocracy and highhandedness that could be practiced under Federal governance is quite absent in the case of Germany.
View on Probation and Community Corrections
The German criminal code is a straightforward document that has no hidden agendas. “It is the harshness of prison life that makes people commit more crimes, not the mercy of probation. “ (Page 460:Chapter 15: Probation and Community Correction Unity). Thus, wherever possible, it is probation and community corrections that could provide better scope for reform and rehabilitation of criminals rather than harsh laws and physical brutality.
Reforms that have changed the rights of Prisoners
The Thirty-Seventh Amendment (37th Amendment) of the German Penal Code was announced on February 19, 2005, which seeks effectively to deal with offenses connected with human traffic. This has been enforced with the perceived idea of providing more teeth to the existing laws and regulations, placing them in a more effective and orderly position. The existing laws and regulations governing this important legal instrument of reforms are intended to curb human traffic to and from the Federal Republic of Germany.
Germany’s Correctional System as Compared to that of US
Germany’s correctional system has proved to be more effective and efficient than that of the US. But in all justice, the quantum and extent of crime in the US is much more than that in Germany. While the US has more than 50 states, Germany has just 13 and it has a much stronger and decentralized system as compared to the USA.
Decide More Effective Correctional System (German or US system)
Prima facie, it appears that the German model seems to be more in line with the correctional and rehabilitative system of justice delivery, especially when individual states are empowered to deal with these issues on their own. Only major crimes are needed to be brought to the attention of the Federal System.
If the instances of recidivism between the American Models and the German Models are compared, it is seen that the American model has a much larger incidence of recidivism and that too on a larger scale. This unequivocally speaks out against the kind of justice delivery system that is practiced in the US and there is a crying need for reforms of the more potent kind. This is based more on constructive and pragmatic reformist movements rather than a harsh and punitive one that would only stoke the fire and not appease it. The ground norms of the justice delivery system need to be overhauled in line with the German models if there is any room for improvement in future years.
Whether US’ Correctional System should be Adopted/ Changed to Reflect Aspects of Germany’s Correctional System
There are many ailments in the justice delivery system being presently practiced in the United States. Also, it is required to address these issues one by one. In the first place, judges are not lawmakers, and they should not try to be lawmakers either. They could only interpret the law in the best interests of the case and devise ways and means by which the aggrieved party could be placed in a position, had the crime or felony not taken place or in the event of serious crimes, offer commensuration relief and succor to the victims, and deterrent punishment to the proven offenders. It is neither in the best interests of the justice delivery system nor the jurisprudence to offer new laws or amend the existing procedures. This is outside the ambit of justice.
Another aspect is common law (there is no common law in Germany) which is often the best escape route for justice delivery models. Common law had served the courts well during an era that was characterized by fewer complexities in the legal framework and lesser kinds of crimes. However, today the entire skyline of crimes and crime-fighting has changed and has the psyches and motives of criminals. Thus, it would not be preposterous thinking to use archaic 19th-century laws to deter and circumvent today’s criminal adventures. The need of the hour are appropriate and robust laws that could not only punish the guilty but also serve as strong deterrence of offenders, not only in punitive ways but also rehabilitative and reconstructive as in the case demands. Economic losses could be replaced by economic benefits. But, serious crimes need to weigh all aspects before indulgence.
Again, the preponderance and centralization of legal powers at the hands of the Federal Government are often questionable, especially when there are local aspects. Many federal laws may challenge and even conflict with State laws. Thus, it would be necessary to establish parity between state and Federal laws before a final verdict is delivered.
The concept of correctional elements needs to be correctly defined, identified, and interpreted by the courts of law. Then only could true justice be delivered.
Boldt, A. (2008). A subjective comparison of Germany and the United States. Web.
Law enforcement in Germany. (n.d.). MedLibrary.org. 2010, Web.
Prisons in Germany. (2005). NationMaster.com. Web.