Plan B: High recidivism rates among criminals raise doubts about the current prison system. What alternatives do open prisons offer?
October 14, 2023 | 29:33 minutes
Young people who had committed crimes lived together in family-run shared apartments in a large half-timbered house near Stuttgart. In society they learn new structures and rethink old behavioral patterns.
Ermila April is part of the founding team of Seehaus. In the interview with ZDF, she explained the potential she sees in the new methods in the prison.
Zed Huti: How do you evaluate the experience of the juvenile prison system in Germany?
Ermila April: In Germany, juvenile detention is no longer just a “detention centre”. There are many training opportunities as well as therapeutic and social educational offerings.
As stay-at-home parents, they lived in the lake house with their three daughters and five to seven delinquent teenagers. In 2011, she presented the program “Victim-Perpetrator in Conversation.” Irmila Abril now heads the juvenile justice system and advocates for restorative justice.
However, social learning is often not possible in a positive group context. There is a separate “prison culture” that does not lead to a free life without punishment.
Here, other concepts must be developed that help young people find their way to a life free of punishment.
Accommodation in small institutions is certainly essential for this. The law states: “Life in the juvenile prison system shall be as similar as possible to the general living conditions of young people living at liberty.” (§2 JvollzGB-BW). In many places, the juvenile justice system is still far from meeting this standard.
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Zed Huti: What specifically needs to be done to ensure that young prisoners remain unpunished in the future?
They have often been victims themselves, suffer from trauma, and have difficulty managing frustration and controlling impulses.
…There are alternative penal systems for juveniles in Leonberg near Stuttgart and in Leipzig. Offenders aged between 14 and 23 can apply for a place while in prison. Over the past 20 years, 260 offenders have completed the program. 90% of young people here complete an educational qualification, and up to 99% can be placed in training or work after their release. Nearly 75 percent will not reoffend.
This suggests what needs to be done: they need to learn how to organize their day, and get to work and school on time. They must practice problem-solving strategies, learn to control their impulses and aggression, and discover their abilities. We are trying to implement this at Seehaus.
Zed Huti: What type of punishment is used there?
April: Seehaus Leonberg is a free-form prison system. It is a third form of the penal system in addition to the open and closed penal system existing in Baden-Württemberg, Saxony and Brandenburg, for which the legal requirements have recently been established in Berlin.
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Outside the prison walls, young offenders are given the opportunity to prepare for a life free of crime.
April: OTG is based on the “Sycamore Tree Software” from New Zealand. In the programme, four to five perpetrators and victims of crime meet on a voluntary basis in six supervised sessions.
…is a newer approach to criminal justice that focuses on repairing harm done to people rather than punishing perpetrators. This concept appeared in the 1970s and has been constantly expanded. Today, engagement of the environment and families by the victim and the perpetrator is an important part of restoring reconciliation and trust between the two sides.
Co-victims are not direct victims of these perpetrators. The aim is to enable exchange and reflection on redress options and avoid further crimes.
The goal of participating victims is to heal and come to terms with what happened. It provides perpetrators with the opportunity to take responsibility and develop empathy.
Zed Huti: How did you come up with this idea?
April: I knew this concept, but I had no idea about it, and that was one of the reasons I decided to travel to New Zealand and participate in the program in prison there. It really impressed me with its impact, which is why I’ve been presenting it regularly at Seehaus since 2011. We’ve already been able to help a lot of people with this.
Interview conducted by Bea Scull.
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