International Differences in Prison Architecture

What the United States Can Learn from Germany

  • Max Grönegräs
Keywords: prison, architecture, surveillance, Germany, United States


This paper examines the differences between the architecture of prisons in Germany and the United States (US). While in Germany, prison design is employed to maximize the privacy of the inmates as well as their freedom of movement, in the US, the close surveillance of the prisoner is regarded as a necessary component of his strict punishment. Several American politicians, academics, activists and journalists regard the German approach towards incarceration as a model that could potentially contribute to an improvement of the prison system in the US. A major obstacle on the way towards betterment are, however, the owners of numerous private American prisons, who employ their inmates under inhumane working conditions that are comparable to slavery. Within the context of this debate, I have interviewed three architects, Edgar Muth, Michael Eschwe and Michael Wächter, who all have either been or currently still are involved in the structural design of German prisons. Their descriptions of generously equipped cells, common residential groups and modernly designed showers draw an image of a prison system the United States could have one day, if the country would be willing to learn some lessons from the German example.


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