Criminal Justice Reform in the US
In the past few years, Berlin developed into one of the favorite European places for US-American researchers, practitioners and politicians, who work on the humanization of the criminal justice system. This includes in particular the inclusion of young adults ("emerging adults") into juvenile justice, the humanization of the penal system as well as refraining from the death penalty and absurdly long terms of imprisonment. At the Freie Universität Berlin, Carsten Momsen and Kirstin Drenkhahn support this movement. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (MV), Frieder Dünkel of the University of Greifswald is involved, as of course are the Prison Services of the Senate Administration for Justice, Consumer protection and Anti-discrimination of Berlin and the Ministry of Justice of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Why Berlin and MV?
The project began with a visit to Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the Summer of 2015, organized by the Vera Institute in New York. Part of the trip was a visit to Heidering prison in Berlin and Neustrelitz youth prison in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Reports (e.g. Marshall Project: "How Germany does Prison") of this visit sparked interest from other organizations and people who work on prison reform. Meanwhile, us from the FU Berlin are taking part in this exchange as well and are hosting colleagues and advocacy groups from the US.
Visit by the Fair and Just Prosecutors, 7-12 May, 2019
A delegation of the non-profit organization "Fair and Just Prosecution - FJP" will be in Berlin and will visit us at Freie Universität Berlin from May 7 to May 12, 2019. In addition to FJP members, the group includes 14 district attorneys from various federal states. The group comprises such well-known personalities as Satana Deberry, District Attorney, Durham County, North Carolina, T.J. Donovan, Attorney General of the State of Vermont, Seema Gajwani, the Special Counsel for Juvenile Justice Reform in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, who played a significant role in the reform of the age limits in juvenile criminal law, or Eric Gonzalez, who, as senior District Attorney in Kings County, New York (Brooklyn), initiated far-reaching reforms in law enforcement and sanctioning. These and other members of the group are experienced prosecutors whose common interest is to learn about alternatives to mass incarceration and very long prison sentences for adults and juveniles in order to implement reforms in their districts.
In March, Prof. Carsten Momsen gave the group an overview of the system of prosecution and sanctions in Germany at a meeting in New York. In Berlin, the group will be coached by Prof. Kirstin Drenkhahn.
On 8 May 2019, 16:30-18:30, room 3302 (Bo3), Liz Komar will give a lecture with discussion on "Basics of the US CJS (esp. plea bargaining vs. jury trial and the consequences for sentencing, sentencing for minors)". Liz Komar is Director of Innovations and Site Learning at Fair and Just Prosecution and the renowned Center for Court Innovation in Manhattan. All are cordially invited.
Visit by the Juvenile Justice Initiative, Feb 27-Mar 1, 2019
At the end of February, a group from the Juvenile Justice Initiative visited us during their trip around several European criminal justice systems. This trip was organized by Elizabeth Clarke of the JJI and Cédric Foussard. Kirstin Drenkhahn joined the group to talk about basics of German juvenile justice law, the inclusion of young adults in juvenile justice and the basics of sentencing and the execution of sentences.
Visit by the Fair and Just Prosecutors, 14-16 Nov 2018
From Nov 14-16, 2018, a five-person team of the project “Fair and Just Prosecution”, founded in New York and Los Angeles, was hosted by professors Drenkhahn and Momsen.
The non-profit organization works closely with the renowned “Center for Court Innovation” in New York and set its objective on making newly elected District Attorneys familiar with alternatives to imprisonment, but also alternative forms of imprisonment. The USA have the highest prison population rate worldwide. The sentences are disproportionately long with a tendency to get even longer and are also executed in cases of juveniles and (according to German law) children, as well as mentally-impaired convicts. In some states, this also applies to the death penalty. In addition, long sentences are sometimes imposed for minor offenses and excessive use is made of pre-trial detention. As a result, the families of the accused often find themselves in existential distress. The partially privately operated and profit-oriented penal institutions are dependent on the highest possible number of prisoners. A reduction in crime is not achieved in all this. Quite the contrary.
The project wants to counteract these negative effects. The guests from New York were initially informed about the basics of criminal proceedings, the execution of sentences and imprisonment in Germany. They also met with representatives of the Prison Service, the youth court welfare service, the warden of Moabit remand prison and other stakeholders.
The “Fair and Just Prosecutors” also cooperate with NYLS as well as the NYU and Columbia University.
Visit by the Columbia Justice Lab with a group from Massachusetts, 25-30 Mar 2018
In March 2018, a group of politicians and practitioners from Massachusetts visited Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The visit was organized by the Columbia Justice Lab and Frieder Dünkel. The group was primarily interested in the inclusion of young adults into juvenile justice and in treatment programming in prisons. Kirstin Drenkhahn and Frieder Dünkel gave an introduction into German juvenile justice law on 26 Mar 2018 at the Law Department at FU Berlin.
Visit by a group of students and professor from the University of Notre Dame/Indiana, 17 Oct 2016
In October 2016, a group of psychology and architecture students from the University of Notre Dame/Indiana visited the Law Department together with their professors Anre Venter and Lucien Steil. Prof. Dr. Frieder Dünkel (University of Greifswald) who coordinated the trip and Kirstin Drenkhahn introduced the group to German prison law and went on a visit to Heidering prison in Großbeeren with them.
Besuch der Fair and Just Prosecutors, 14.-16.11.2018
Vom 14.11.-16.11.2018 war ein fünfköpfiges Team des in New York (und Los Angeles) gegründeten Projekts „Fair and Just Prosecution“ bei Profs. Drenkhahn und Momsen zu Gast.
Diese Non-Profit Organisation arbeitet eng mit dem renommierten „Center for Court Innovation“ in New York zusammen und hat sich zum Ziel gesetzt, neu gewählte District Attorneys (Staatsanwaltschaften auf Ebene der Bundesstaaten) mit Alternativen zum Strafvollzug, aber auch alternativen Formen des Vollzugs vertraut zu machen. Die USA haben weltweit eine der höchsten Inhaftierungsraten. Die Strafen sind überproportional lang mit steigender Tendenz und werden auch an Jugendlichen und (nach deutschem Recht) Kindern, sowie beschränkt schuldfähigen Verurteilten vollstreckt. In einigen Staaten gilt dies auch für die Todesstrafe. Zudem werden für geringe Verfehlungen teilweise lange Strafen verhängt und es wird exzessiv von Untersuchungshaft Gebrauch gemacht. Dadurch geraten vielfach auch die Familien der Beschuldigten in existenzielle Not. Die teilweise privat betriebenen und gewinnorientierten Vollzugsanstalten sind auf eine möglichst hohe Gefangenenzahl angewiesen. Eine Absenkung der Kriminalität wird bei alledem nicht erreicht. Im Gegenteil.
Diesen negativen Effekten, will das Projekt entgegenwirken. Die Gäste aus New York haben sich zunächst über den Ablauf des Verfahrens, der Vollstreckung und des Vollzugs in Deutschland informieren lassen. Danach standen Gespräche mit Vertretern der Behörde, der Jugendgerichtshilfe, der Vollzugsleitung Moabit u.a. auf dem Programm. Für das nächste Frühjahr ist der Besuch einer größeren Delegation von District Attorneys und Prosecutors geplant.
Die „Fair and Just Prosecutors“ kooperieren neben der NYU und der Columbia University auch mit der NYLS.