CBS’s 60 Minutes takes viewers Sunday on the same tour of Germany’s prison system that inspired Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his correction commissioner, Scott Semple, to try a different way to treat younger defendants and inmates.
The governor and commissioner saw a system that focuses on rehabilitation, not punishment. Correction officers are trained as counselors, defendants are treated as juveniles until 21, and inmates are segregated in youth prisons until 25.
The timing of the 60 Minutes piece is propitious for Malloy, coming as legislators are trying to decide how many of the governor’s criminal justice reforms will be undertaken over the last four weeks of the 2016 session.
Malloy wants criminal defendants to be tried as juveniles for many minor offenses until they are 21, an effort to save as many as possible from an adult criminal record that can be a lifelong obstacle to employment, education and housing opportunities.
On his own authority, Semple already is working to segregate inmates up to age 25, a recognition that research shows that the sense of judgment for many young adults does not fully develop until age 25.
In a preview of the 60 Minutes story, Malloy tells reporter Bill Whitaker on the tour last June that he was impressed with the German results: “I think there are many things that are transferable. That doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect fit. But I think we have to challenge ourselves to do better.”
Malloy and Semple dedicated the correction system’s fourth community reintegration unit Friday. The newest one prepares men doing time for driving under the influence for release from prison.
The Mirror reported on the German tour in a piece in January about the partnership of Malloy and Semple and what it means for criminal justice in Connecticut: A governor, a commissioner and their new take on prison.
“It was just as secure, if not more, than what you would see here in the U.S.,” Semple told us, describing the German prisons. “It had a different vibe, a different feel to it. Walking into a cell did not feel like what you would see here – a little bigger, more like a dorm.”
Malloy told us he was struck by the sight of inmates, all wearing civilian clothes, preparing their own dinner in a small kitchen in their housing unit. So was Semple, if for a different reason.
“Do I think we can do this in the United States? No, I’m not even ready to go down that road. Quite frankly, one of the things that scared me, they let them cook for themselves,” Semple said. “There were sharp utensils there. I was, ‘Holy crap.’ I got my back to a wall.”
But Semple said he later was told there were no incidents of inmate violence. He eventually was struck by the quiet of the prison, which seemed more like a community college at times as inmates went to classes or prison jobs.
One of the last stops on the tour was Neustrelitz Prison, a facility for prisoners ages 18 to 25. Semple found lessons he did bring home: Staff geared to the challenges of working with impulsive young adults in a facility with a therapeutic approach.