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Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States

NCJ Number
Ram Subramanian; Alison Shames
Date Published
October 2013
24 pages

As part of the European-American Prison Project, this report presents the findings of a team of U.S. corrections policymakers who visited prisons in Germany and the Netherlands for the purpose of determining whether their corrections systems have policies that are transferable for beneficial reforms in the United States.


Based on policies being implemented in Germany and the Netherlands, the project team offers four recommendations for reform in the United States. First, expand prosecutorial discretion to divert offenders from traditional criminal justice processing. German and Dutch prosecutors divert a large number of criminal cases. Although prosecutorial diversion is practiced in the United States, it is typically limited to first-time offenders or to special populations, such as drug-addicted or mentally ill offenders. Expanding prosecutorial diversion options could lower incarceration rates and reduce the number of people exposed to the negative socioeconomic consequences of contact with the criminal justice system. Second, reduce reliance on incarceration as a first response to offending and expand the use of community-based sanctions. In Germany and the Netherlands make greater use of community-based sanctions for a wider array of offenses compared to the United States. This is based in deliberate policies intended to keep most offenders out of prison. Third, diversify prison classification systems and inmate disciplinary sanctions to reflect proven and humane measures for controlling harmful and disruptive inmate behavior. German and Dutch prisons rarely use solitary confinement to discipline inmates; and when used, it is only for short periods. Fourth, normalize the conditions within prisons. In Germany and the Netherlands, the organizing principle of prison management and inmate supervision is "normalization," which means that prison policies and management styles attempt to make prison activities and requirements similar to responsible and humane living in an outside community. 4 figures and 77 notes