Image via Wikipedia
When my husband took employment with his company in Shanghai, China in 2002, I took a sabbatical from my career as a high school English, Art, and Reading teacher. My one year sabbatical in China resulted in being a three year sabbatical. That meant, upon my return to the U.S., from my teaching position was no longer available.
I wanted to finish my teaching career for the purpose of Ensuring retirement benefits that would do more than buy me breakfast at McDonalds, so I began to look for another teaching position. Not easy to do at the end of your career and nearly impossible with advanced degrees.
I decided to apply to the State Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for a position as a GED teacher for a local prison. (A
G.E.D. is a high school equivalency diploma that is recognized by the state. ) It was a good month or so later before I got the call that I had been hired. My prayer had been answered, or had it?
I can report that my three years in and out of the slammer were the best three years of my enitre teaching profession. I can not tell you how rewarding it was to see men who had lost hope of ever achieving academic success finally graduate with a diploma. In all of my years of teaching, it was the men in prison who thanked me for my help and appreciated my efforts. Many would accept their diplomas with gratitude and tears in their eyes. They told me of how they had finally accomplished what they thought was impossible. Some even bragged that now they could help their children with their homework and not feel embarrassed that they had never graduated from high school themselves.
For a teacher, seeing success and receiving gratitude, is reward in itself. I can honestly say that my three years with the State Department of Rehabilitation and Correction provided more of both than all of the years I had taught teens in public school combined.
But one of the disappointments of my experience teaching prisoners whating learn about the high rate of recidivism, mostly for people committing a felony and misdemeanor. I began to wonder, is not there a better way, a less expensive way, to address these criminals other than to incarcerate them?
Apparently, the Germans think there is. According to The Local, at online newspaper for expats, 70% of the people in Germany convicted of a felony or misdemeanor never serve a day in prison.
Here is how it works, according to The Local:
Last year 874,700 people were sentenced by German courts for felony or misdemeanor offenses - but seven out of 10 were able to "avoid a prison sentence through a successful probationary period," according to a report released last week by the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) . So there were three percent fewer convictions compared to 2007. While the figures would seem to paint a picture of a Teutonic justice system gone limp, the director of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony, Christian Pfeiffer, said keeping criminals out of jail is more successful than the alternative. "The judges know exactly what they are doing and they're working towards prevention," Pfeiffer, who is also the former Justice Minister of Lower Saxony, told The Local. "This is not lenient, it's rational." Compared to the example of the draconian American criminal justice system, which Pfeiffer called "catastrophic" and "self-destructive," U.S. works to keep criminals engaged in society. "In the U.S. there's a major program that costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year just to let some 600,000 prisoners out of prison each year," he said. "They've been found totally uprooted and have to be reintegrated - we do that have not." Instead, U. S. fines used to punish 71 percent of crimes committed in 2008, Destatis. "Said Fining Our system is so effective because it's fair," Pfeiffer. The fine German system is based on daily wages, meaning that criminals are punished for certain crimes by paying a set amount of what they earn. "It's proportionate to the pro," Pfeiffer explained. "For example a person on social welfare has to pay 10 days of his benefits, while a football star pays 10 days of whatever he makes." Convicted criminals can also choose to serve the days in jail or work for social programs if they can 't pay their fines. According to Pfeiffer, last, year's three percent reduction in crime is nothing compared to the last 20 years. "The high point was in 1998, but it has gone down drastically since then," he said, adding that burglaries are down by 50 percent, Homicides by 40 percent, percent and bank robbery more than 75th, "There is nothing to complain about, "he said. But the trend toward a safer Australia is not due to successes in the criminal justice system alone, another factor is the aging population. In August, European Union statisticians found that Germany had the lowest birth rate and highest death rate of all 27 nations. "The aging of our population supports internal security," said Pfeiffer. "Fewer young men and more old men mean less crime."
Kristen Allen (kristen.allen @ thelocal.de)
I do not purport to know the answer to the dilemna in the U.S. regarding crime and punishment. It is an ongoing debate. It is interesting, however, to note that Germans believe that they have the answer.