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Army corrections in Mannheim: past, present, future.

Today, the city of Mannheim, Germany, is more than 500 years old. It was established at the confluence of the Rhine and Neckar rivers in western Germany in 1507. Due to the ease of inland water transportation and the Rhine River valley's superb agricultural production, the city rapidly expanded. Just before the Industrial Age, the city's fertile ground and ability to transport water combined with a growing population that included local inventors and entrepreneurs, leading the city to economic significance by the late 19th century.


In 1940, Mannheim became one of the first major industrial centers subjected to aerial bombardment by the British Royal Air Force. The infrastructure of the inland waterways, as well as large industrial enterprises in the vicinity of Mannheim and nearby Ludwigshafen, partially explained this attention, as did the fact that its location on the Rhine River made it geographically accessible from British airbases. Given the infancy and inaccuracy of aerial bombardment in the 1940s, most of the bombs fell in an area pattern over the entire city, hitting residential areas and other nonmilitary structures along with the intended military targets.

By the time the U.S. Army reached the Rhine River in early 1945 and advanced to the opposite bank of the Rhine from Mannheim, the city had endured bombings for five years. As the U.S. Army crossed the Rhine farther north, units of the 7th Army remained across the river from Mannheim, subjecting the city to artillery fire in addition to continued aerial bombardment. On March 29, 1945, Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army had advanced far enough across the Rhine River on its way to Frankfurt that the German army withdrew from Mannheim, permitting elements of the 7th Army to begin the U.S. occupation of the city. The city it found was in ruins.

V-E Day was May 8, 1945, the day the surrender of Germany was announced, officially ending the European phase of World War II, and Mannheim rapidly became a logistics hub for the multimillion man American Army. One mundane but necessary aspect of supporting the Army was a need for a stockade (the contemporary Army phrase for what would today be a local adult detention facility) to support the military justice system. Since 7th Army headquarters was located in Mannheim--a center of General Court Martial authority--the Army looked around the city for a structure to serve as the Army stockade (doctrine at the time called for one stockade for each field army; there were five U.S. field armies in Germany in May 1945). The logical solution was to use the city district court that had operated in the west wing of Mannheim's "Schloss" (German for mansion). Fortuitously, the rest of the Schloss, which housed the University of Mannheim, had been gutted during the war but the wing that housed the district court was among the least damaged buildings in the area and, with rubble removal, was quickly transformed into a stockade. As the U.S. Army rapidly downsized after the war, this expedient stockade would become the progenitor of the only Army prison in Germany, and after the Cold War it was the only U.S. military prison in all of Europe.


1946 - 1955

The initial years of the occupation and the Cold War were years of conflicting opinions about the U.S. military presence in Germany. On the one hand was the idea that U.S. presence was a temporary situation. On the other was the realization that the Cold War implied a long-term stay. This meant that physical improvements came slowly to the Mannheim Stockade. For example, while the rest of the Schloss was slowly recovering and rebuilding to its former architectural beauty, the stockade had a large, ugly hand-painted sign posted along the main avenue, which read "USAREUR [United States Army Europe] Stockade." Olivegreen wooden watchtowers were constructed along the corners, and concertina wire was used as the outer perimeter marking. While construction was understandable in the immediate aftermath of the war, as the years progressed and the rubble cleared from the city, the anomalous presence of the stockade in the heart of a local landmark provoked frustration among local residents and was operationally inconvenient for the U.S. Army. In 1955, the Federal Republic of Germany gained full national sovereignty and the U.S. Army status changed from an occupier to an invited guest under NATO. One of the immediate impacts in the Mannheim area was public clamor and political requests that the Americans relocate the stockade from the Schloss.


1955 - 1963

Initial German government approaches to the U.S. Army about relocating the stockade were generally met with two responses: that the Army's long-term plan was to relocate the facility to Bremen, where the Army operated a shipping port that would facilitate sending long-sentenced inmates back to America; and that there was no money budgeted to build a new stockade anytime soon. The city of Mannheim passed the issue off to the state government in Baden-Wurttemberg, which in turn passed the issue to the German federal government. Due to the intense political and economic impact of revitalizing the Schloss area of Mannheim, all were in agreement that the American prison needed to be moved out of the area. Therefore, the federal government offered to fully fund the construction of a new stockade for the U.S. Army.

However, a series of changing plans and apparent miscommunications delayed the construction project for two years. First, the U.S. Army announced that it was closing its port operation in Bremen and planned in the future to move personnel by air instead of sea. Second, a new commanding general in Heidelberg made a comment at a social gathering with local German politicians that he thought there was an existing building already on an Army camp near Heidelberg that was going to be the new stockade location. Although he was incorrect in this statement, the damage was done. The German government shelved movement to build a new facility since they assumed the Americans were doing it. By late 1957, the miscommunication was resolved and the Germans signed a contract to construct a new facility on Coleman Barracks on the outskirts of Mannheim. Additional delays and miscommunications occurred until the 1961 roofing ceremony locked the new facility as the true destination of the Mannheim Stockade. At the time it was completed in 1962, the new facility was considered architecturally state-of-the-art. Confinement operations began in January 1963, and the U.S. Army departed the Schloss for good.

1963 - Today and Beyond

The Mannheim Stockade--which now, after multiple name changes, is called the U.S. Army Confinement Facility-Europe or USACF-E--has been in continual operation at Coleman Barracks since it opened. At inception, it was one of four confinement facilities in Germany, and it was designed to house 300 medium-custody males. By the 1970s, it became the sole Army prison in Germany and also housed female military inmates. Two extra housing blocks were added in 1986 to meet new national housing standards. During the 1990s, as the U.S. military presence in Europe was downsized, the USACF-E became the sole military prison in Europe that accepted inmates from all over Europe and from all services. The facility also received small detachments from the Navy and Air Force to augment staff. In 2002, the facility achieved initial ACA accreditation.

Today, USACF-E confines inmates who are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in accordance with the NATO Status of Forces Agreement, which gives the military jurisdiction over military members for most instances of criminal conduct. As the only facility in Europe, USACF-E houses male and female pre--and post-trial inmates of all custody classifications for all levels of offenses from failure to go to parade-rest for an enlisted soldier, to murder and other felonies. Inmates are kept in USACF-E for up to one year. If sentenced to confinement for more than a year, they are transferred by commercial air carrier to a military correctional facility in the U.S. as determined by the service headquarters. Despite its small inmate population, commensurate with overall downsizing of the military presence in Europe, the USACF-E provides a full range of correctional services to include vocational, treatment and educational programs. In recognition of these programs, and the professional interaction of staff correctional specialists with the inmates, the facility will soon be renamed U.S. Army Corrections Facility-Europe.

One of the unique aspects of operating a U.S. military prison overseas is observing the proliferation of urban legends. The popular image of corrections in general, and military corrections in particular, simply adds to public misperceptions. The 1990 Martin Sheen movie Cadence even further divorced the reality of facility operations from what is in the popular imagination. The residents of Mannheim are certainly aware that USACF-E operates in the city environs, but knowledge of what actually occurs in the facility is limited. Consequently, various myths have evolved in the local community (and indeed throughout Europe) about the nature of operations at the facility. One can find T-shirts for sale emblazoned "Hard Time in Mannheim" clearly referring to USACF-E, yet produced by German stores for German customers as an interesting take on city pride. In the post-Sept. 11 world, the facility has also been an occasional target of German concerns about reported CIA "extraordinary rendition" activities with the occasional accusation that USACF-E is somehow involved. Fortunately, German law enforcement agencies are well aware of the reality of USACF-E since they gain exposure when working joint-jurisdiction cases involving U.S. military inmates. Additionally, the military police unit that operates the facility has a partner German military police unit that conducts combined training and social events, furthering the demystification of the facility in German minds.

In a seeming repeat of the 1955-1957 changes and redirections that resulted in relocating the original Mannheim Stockade, in 2005, the U.S. Army Europe considered drastically downsizing USACF-E and relocating it to a new facility near Kaiserslautern as Army facilities and bases in the Mannheim area closed. In 2007, those plans were deferred until at least 2012, leaving the USACF-E to continue operations at its current location.


The facility will continue to conduct correctional operations in a 46-year-old building, with an average population of 65 inmates per day, and a resulting turnover of more than 300 inmates per year. The inmate population has decreased from a daily count of 250 to about 65 as the U.S. military presence in Europe has declined from more than 300,000 personnel to about 50,000. One may note that the inmate population decline does not exactly match the decline in military population. Theories remain inconclusive, but in wartime the military traditionally tightens up disciplinary standards and conducts court-martials for cases that in peacetime may have simply resulted in administrative discharges. Whether in war or peace, the USACF-E maintains correctional standards. The facility recently completed an ACA reaccreditation audit and it is on track to remain accredited as it continues its corrections mission.

Maj. P. Drake Jackson, U.S. Army Military Police, was the commander of the U.S. Army Confinement Facility-Europe at the time this article was written. He is currently on deployment in Iraq with a team of soldiers who are advising Iraqi security forces.
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Author:Jackson, P. Drake
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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