The German prison program that inspired Connecticut

A prison in Connecticut is taking cues from Germany, where inmates do yoga and have keys to their cells. 60 Minutes reported on it in 2016

German prison inspires Connecticut

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker reports on a radical attempt at prison reform at a Connecticut prison nicknamed the Rock. The prison focuses on therapy and self-improvement, with the idea that rehabilitation will reduce re-offense. The idea came from Germany, where the recidivism rate is about half that of the U.S.

In 2016, Whitaker reported on the Germany approach, where the objective is rehabilitation, not retribution. While touring a Berlin prison, he joined a group of U.S. prison and law enforcement officials, including then-Governor of Connecticut Dannel Malloy.

As seen in Whitaker's 2016 report, German prison is dramatically different from American incarceration. To begin with, prison is reserved for the worst of the worst—murderers, rapists, career criminals. Life inside mirrors life outside as much as possible; Germans call it normalization. Cells have doors, not bars, and inmates have the key. There is yoga, crocheting, and painting class.

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Inmates do yoga in a German prison
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A German prison cell. Inmates can decorate their cells as they please and have keys to their cell doors
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Bernd Junge, a convicted murderer in Germany, was serving a life sentence but earned weekend leave for good behavior

"The real goal is reintegration into society, train them to find a different way to handle their situation outside, life without further crimes, life without creating new victims, things like that," Joerg Jesse told Whitaker. A psychologist by training, he is the director of prisons in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, a state in northern Germany.

But what about punishment?

"The incarceration, the imprisonment itself is punishment," Jesse said. "The loss of freedom. That's it."

Malloy was impressed by what he saw and returned home inspired to launch the small German-style program at the Rock.

To watch Bill Whitaker's 60 Minutes report on the Connecticut prison the Rock, click here.