When the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was first built in 1829, it promised to be the leading edge of what was to be a reform of the corrections systems around the world. In contrast to other prisons that focused primarily on retribution, Eastern State put an emphasis on reform instead of punishment, and served as the model for more than 300 prisons worldwide.
The images of prison are familiar to all of us—cold, pale concrete walls, with limited light filtering through narrow, bar-protected windows; prisoners in solid jumpsuits shuffling through the corridors under the watchful eye of ever-present guards; small, unadorned cells where men and women live out long prison terms in solitude and despair.
When considering reforms to the criminal justice system, a good place to start is with an examination of what other nations have done to make their corrections systems more effective and just. Looking at the practices and polices of who have seen success in reducing crime rates and recidivism elsewhere can help to form the groundwork for new innovations and changes here.
There’s a story of a German pilot in World War II. He was one “kill” short of earning the Iron Cross when he spotted an American B-17 bomber crew in trouble. They’d already taken heavy fire from Nazi guns, and they would have been easy prey.