Germany with a population of about 82 million has a prison population of 66,000. That’s down from the 79,000 it recently was. As a result, there are now a lot of unused prisons which several developers have bought and turned into high end apartments or in some cases hotels or public events spaces. They are old buildings with oak doors and other features qualifying some for historical preservation despite their dilapidation. Most housed a small number of inmates which does ease the transition to other uses. In the United States where the population in January 2013 was 315,183,801, the prison population in 2012 was 1, 511, 012, a figure which was actually down 1.7% from 2011. The ratio of those incarcerated as a percentage of the population is obviously much higher. It’s 716 per 100,000. I couldn’t find the comparable number for Germany, but to place that figure in greater context, in Sweden it’s 67 per 100,000. There are efforts here and there to rethink our criminal justice system, including a couple of bills before Congress, and numbers bear out that this is overdue. Meanwhile when I read about Germany’s conversion of prisons, it couldn’t help but evoke the idea of swords into ploughshares.