Can people read books in prison?

Ex-prison director Thomas Galli: "prisons don't work"

MOMENT: You say prison only makes people more dangerous. Why do you think that?

Thomas Galli: The state punishes so that prisoners no longer commit crimes after they have been detained. Alongside rehabilitation and the protection of the general public, this is one of the main goals of prisons. The current state of research shows: this does not work. It is even the other way around. Anyone who has been in prison is more likely to commit another crime.

It should be said that the action is very important. In the case of murder, for example, there is a very low likelihood of recidivism - even imprisonment does not increase that. It is different with "smaller" crimes such as drug trafficking and burglary.


MOMENT: In your book "Locked Up" you write that there are hardly any reliable numbers and facts about the effect of prison sentences. Maybe you don't want to know exactly?

Thomas Galli: If the people involved were convinced of the positive effects of the prisons, then these numbers would probably also be available. Most of the studies in the field are carried out by institutes outside the judiciary. For me, this is a clear sign that the bottom line is that prisons are not delivering the desired results - and those involved in the judiciary know or at least suspect that.

Thomas Galli: "You don't have to want to understand criminals"


MOMENT: Some will accuse you of wanting terrorists and rapists to roam free. What do you answer to that?

Thomas Galli: That is the biggest misunderstanding I come across in my work. I'm not interested in a wellbeing program for offenders. You don't have to want to understand criminals. The state can and should punish. But I question the way in which it is punished. I believe we can create decent alternatives that cost less and produce better results.


MOMENT: What kind of alternatives could that be?

Thomas Galli: I'm for community service as the main penalty. An example: A former client of mine took part in an illegal car race while drunk. He had an accident and killed a person in the process. A very bad story. He was sentenced to five years in prison. I'm not sure he really internalized what he did. Now he's in jail and I ask myself: Whom does it serve? You can't make up for a dead person. That is clear. I still think that in this case, community service, for example in an accident hospital, would have contributed more to the fact that he never drives drunk again. He was imprisoned in his early twenties and released in his late twenties. He will then hardly have any prospects with his criminal record.


MOMENT: Community work instead of prison - does that already exist in Germany?

Thomas Galli: Only in the case of substitute custodial sentences and even there it is hardly used. People are rarely informed or individually motivated.

"People have to go to jail because they have no money"


MOMENT: When you wrote the book, around 1,000 people were in custody in Germany because they drove illegally. How can this happen?

Thomas Galli: If people fail to pay a fine, for example for driving illegally or parking incorrectly, a substitute custodial sentence is imposed. So people practically go to jail because they have no money. Almost a third of them are homeless. Three quarters are unemployed. If you already live on the fringes of society, you can be arrested faster than you think.


MOMENT: In Austria there has been electronically monitored house arrest, the ankle cuffs, for ten years.

Thomas Galli: Austria is a role model here. In Germany there were model projects, but they were crushed. One of the biggest problems with prison is that prisoners lose their social circle, often their home and certainly their job, if they had one. All of these harmful side effects of jail time can be avoided by using the ankle cuff. This is especially important for parents. The whole family is always affected by a prison sentence. When it comes to electronically monitored house arrest, it is important to have accompanying treatment and care, for example in the case of drug addiction.


MOMENT: Many people are imprisoned in Austria, but don't even live here. They have no social network here to catch them.

Thomas Galli: Yes that is a problem. It would be possible to spend the prison sentence in smaller residential groups. Always in connection with social work support.

"Discussions about higher penalties are distracting"


MOMENT: The call for higher penalties is always great when something bad happens. Almost two years ago, feminicide was a big issue in Austria. The government reacted with higher penalties, even though experts said: It will not do anything. The catastrophic conditions in the custody of mentally ill offenders have been known for years. Nothing has happened.

Thomas Galli: If a politician announces before the election that she wants to improve prison conditions, she may not be elected. If a perpetrator does community service instead of going to jail and then commits an act of violence, the attorney general must take her hat off. Profound changes will only become possible when public opinion turns. Only then can politics move. That's why it's important to me to do this persuasion.

A higher penalty does not prevent a single crime for violence in the family. The man who beats his wife does not think about whether he is facing five years or seven. The discussion about the scope of punishment distracts at most from the measures that would actually help.

Life imprisonment for the most dangerous


MOMENT: In your book you exclude a group of extremely dangerous perpetrators from whom the state has to protect the general public. For this group they are demanding life imprisonment. Is not that a contradiction?

Thomas Galli: What should we do with people who murder children out of sadistic motivation and who do not regret their actions? That is a difficult question. We are currently investing millions in the therapy of a few people who have neither suffering nor a sense of justice. That doesn't help. I think we can decide as a society that we do not want to expose ourselves to the danger that these people pose.

Some say a life sentence is not human. I mean, the current system is far from being human. We lock these people in a small detention room for decades and release them when they are old. If any. Imprisonment can be different. For example on a yard where the group can move, work and live freely.