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German Geriatric Prison

Germany may have the most humanitarian prison in existence today. [ Editors note: They may also have the most inhumane prison as well, the notorious Stammheim prison is where the sensory deprivation isolation now in widespread use across the world was first developed in the mid-70's against German political prisoners. ] Although you must be over 50 years of age to do time in this prison, it is a prison with a heart and does rehabilitate prisoners. Virtually no repeat offenders from its populace have come back into the prison system. The prison is located at Singen, Germany. Conditions for getting into this prison are predictably tough. Prisoners must be over 50, must be socially acceptable and not be dangerous. It is not a retirement home but arguably some people might think so. There are no cells only rooms where each prisoner has his own key. There are no locked doors in the prison itself. The prisoners are free to go anywhere they please. They may walk down the plant lined corridors to the gymnasium, library or courtyard with lawn and fish pond.

Each prisoner has his own seven square meter room, usually decorated with plants and pictures of family. He is responsible for keeping his room clean and doing his own laundry. If married, he is allowed outside of the prison for four hours each month to go to town and be with his wife. He can also take 20 days holiday per year and can go into town to the swimming pool and bowling alley each month accompanied by two warders in plain clothes.

As in other prisons, the inmates, whose ages range from 50 to 80, work in the workshop which in Singen is light, airy and brand new. Work ends at 4 PM after which the prisoners are free to do whatever they like. They can choose between painting classes, gymnastics and conferences. A score of volunteers regularly come to organize social evenings and entice the less active prisoners away from the television screens in their rooms.

Even better provisions for social readjustment are demonstrated by the prison administration in permitting the resident social worker to take inmates once a month to a pub in town for a lesson in "social training." They talk about all sorts of things in this normal environment while drinking good German beer. Since alcohol is banned inside the prison, this helps the inmates to gradually get used to drinking alcohol again, says the social worker.

The social worker also prepares the prisoners for their day of release. It comes early for all since they don't abuse the privileges of the prison for they know they have something to lose if they screw up--hard time in a "normal prison." Good behavior also gets them considerable time off their original sentence. On average, inmates spend about 4 years before release, although there are a few sentenced to life imprisonment (but who will get out on parole with good behavior). To date, only once a "crazy" man has ever tried to escape. According to the warden of Konstanz prison, their goal is to offer more humane conditions of detention to prisoners, who because of their age might not survive long in normal jails. Expat World says hats off to the system of justice that allows such humane treatment of prisoners. It's obvious that the nature of most prison systems today in the Western World, and in particular the USA, are not working. It may be time to change tactics in our incarceration of non violent offenders.

-Expat World

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