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Young in Prison: Is Germany's Way Better Than NJ’s?

Unlike New Jersey, Germany does not prosecute minors as adults. And, unlike New Jersey, Germany has low recidivism rates among minors

One young inmate at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton said there are guards on each side of him in helmets and bulletproof vests with their batons out whenever he leaves his cell. “It’s traumatizing,” he told WNYC.

Minors who commit crimes in New Jersey can no longer be sent to adult prisons because of a new law that went into effect last spring. But the law is not retroactive, so the young inmates who are currently in adult prisons for crimes they committed as minors have to stay there.

As part of a “Kids in Prison” series, WNYC compared criminal justice for minors in New York and New Jersey with the system in Germany, where minors cannot be prosecuted as adults no matter what crime they commit.

In Germany, about 30 percent of juveniles and young adults return to prison within three years. New Jersey tracks recidivism differently, but according to a state report, more than 85 percent of juveniles here are re-arrested or return to court.

Joerg Jesse, director general of prisons and probation in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, is often consulted by U.S. officials on prison reform. "I think it’s much more punitive," he said of the American prison system. "And [there's] a strange belief that punishment and punitiveness is changing something."

Prison in Germany is supposed to mirror the outside world and to help prisoners learn how to live crime-free when they are released. Prisoners have jobs that pay them minimum wage. Guards don’t use batons or pepper spray, or wear bullet-proof vests.

Read the full story on WNYC News, a content partner of NJ Spotlight.

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