Prisons: United States vs. European Union

I’ve written a lot of articles over the past few months surrounding the US prison system. The problems I see. How they came about. Changes I think we should make. But I’ve never discussed prison systems outside the United States. And I’ve never actually described what an alternative prison system could look like. But just take a look at the images above and you’ll see how much different our prisons could look. More importantly how much BETTER they could look. There aren’t that many differences between the European Union and the United States. National governments have similar control over their justice systems to the way states do here. We have similar population sizes. And we have comparable crime rates. But somehow we have significantly more people in prison and have more people returning once released than they do. I’m not saying we need to mirror the European approach. But there’s clearly a problem with the way we’re currently operating compared to European success.


Prison doesn’t have to be the truly horrendous experience it currently is in the United States. Being locked up is punishment itself. Ask anyone who’s ever actually been inside. So why not reform the system to make it better and more effective? To learn more about our current system check out some of my previous articles on the death penalty, felon voting, and the War on Drugs.  I want to help start a discussion surrounding possible prison reform efforts. But I need your help in order to do that. Join the conversation today.



    • Anja on 10 December, 2013 at 8:03 am
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    Hi, i’m from Europe and i’m doing a thesis about Comparison of prison policy in USA and my country ..I was wondering if you could help me out with some literature about USA system /policy..I see you know a lot about it and i’m in a process of getting together all the information..I havent even figure out yet on exact things it would be good to compare due to big differences in systems..So If you have any papers on this, ideas about my topic i would be happy to listen, read or whatever 🙂 Thanks..!

    • Lisa on 15 August, 2012 at 4:29 pm
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    Hey Kristen,

    Thanks so much for you response! It really is amazing how different the facilities are between the US and Europe. I’ve never had the opportunity to visit a prison anywhere but in the US, but hearing about the differences blows my mind. I particularly love the idea of the family room (I hadn’t heard about that before). But I completely agree with you that we focus much more on punishment as opposed to rehabilitation. I think that’s probably one of the biggest problems we have with the overall prison experience. We don’t do anything to help people change their lives to keep them from coming back. Which is a big part of why our recidivism rates are some of the highest in the world. Like you said, definitely something to think about.


    • Kristen Wendt on 14 August, 2012 at 2:34 pm
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    Hey Lisa,

    I agree completely with your graphic. When I was in Italy last semester, I had the opportunity to visit San Vittore Prison in Milan as part of a psychology field study. Everyone in my class with amazed at how different the prison system was in Italy. We got to tour the women’s wing, and in many of the cases, it looked just like a college dorm room – there were two or three people per room, and all members of the room were able to personalize their area with pictures, crafts, etc.

    In addition, the prison was focused much more on rehabilitation projects – such as Cooperativa Alice, which was run out of both the prison and another facility across the city (which we also visited). Inmates were given the opportunity to work, and get paid for their work, as they were waiting out their sentence.

    The last part that stuck out to me was the family room in the prison. There was a family room, where parents could visit with the children which looked just like a daycare. There were books, and games, and art supplies, all of which allowed the children to visit without seeing their parents in a “prison environment”.

    Overall, the whole atmosphere was much different in Italy. It was much more of a rehabilitation based approach instead of a punishment based approach, which I feel we use often in the United States. I’m not saying that they have all the right answers, but it’s definitely something to think about.


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