Special populations

Female prisoners

5.8 % (3,751)

Variation in the number of female prisoners

an increase of 0.6 %

As of 31 January 2018, there were 3,727 women in prison 1.

Percentage of untried female prisoners

20.4 %


Percentage of foreign female prisoners

18.3 % (642)

The majority of female prisoners are placed in separate areas within male prisons. There are seven female-only facilities and these are located in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Lower Saxony, Saxony and Hesse. As of 1 March 2016, women accounted for 5,341 places in prisons.

Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted


The prison staff is

male and female

Body searches are carried out by female members of staff.

Women have access to jobs, teaching and activities. The standard of training and activities in the female-only facilities is generally lower than in male facilities.

Aftercare is also not of a suitable level due to a lack of staff and cooperation with services supporting inmates’ reinsertion to society (Straffälligenhilfe)1. Only 2.5% of counselling places are reserved for female inmates.

Conjugal visits are allowed for women

yes, with proof of long-term relationship

The legislation provides for a sentence adjustment for pregnant women or women with young children


When deciding the sentence, judges can take young children of the mother into consideration. This is decided on a case-by-case basis. There is no statutory requirement to adjust the sentence.

Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care


Childbirth takes place in

in an external healthcare facility

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, up to the age of five

Some German states allow children to stay with their mother in specialist institutions up to the compulsory school age of six years old. This is the case in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony.

Other states allow children to stay with their mother until they are three years old. Mothers are usually transferred to open facilities where they can remain with their children up to the ages of four or six years old.

Placement in a mother and baby unit is granted when the only other option is placing the child into care. Some programmes in certain states allow day release for women to look after their children 1.

The legal authorities of Brandenburg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony allow father and baby institutions to be set up but none of these exist at the moment.

  1. Piet Hein van Kempen and Maartje Krabbe (eds.), Women in prison: The Bangkok Rules and Beyond, p. 405. 

There are ten living spaces for children in prison with their mothers 1. They are located in nine states: Baden-Württemberg (14 places), Bavaria (26 places), Berlin (seven places), Hamburg (four places), Hesse (23 places), Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (two places, for young mothers), Lower Saxony (14 places), North Rhine-Westphalia (16 places), and Saxony (five places).2

The children are looked after externally during the day so that the mothers can work.

Fröndenberg Prison, in North Rhine-Westphalia, brings 16 mothers and their children (maximum age of six years old) together in independent flats which consist of a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, living room and patio. 1

A similar facility also exists in Vechta Prison, in Lower Saxony.

  1. Centre for the Study of Democracy “Re-socialisation of offenders in the EU: enhancing the role of the civil society (re-soc). Workstream 3: Vulnerable Groups of Inmates. Country Report – Germany” 2014, p. 19.  

  2. Piet Hein van Kempen and Maartje Krabbe (éds.), Women in prison: The Bangkok Rules and Beyond, p. 405. 

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


Offenders up to the age of legal majority (21 years old) can be prosecuted under juvenile legislation under the judge’s discretion. The offender’s character and social background are taken into account when making a judgment. Some states prosecute minors up to the age of 21 through the juvenile legislation. This is the case in Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Saarland, and Hesse, while Brandenburg and Saxony use the juvenile legislation up to the legal majority age of 18.

Some young inmates are allowed to stay in a juvenile facility up to the age of 24.

Minimum age of imprisonment for minors

14 years old

Incarcerated minors

2.5 % (1,617)
/ Institute for Criminal Policy Research – World Prison Brief.

Minors are assessed within a specific court system in line with two legislative texts: book eight of the social code for the welfare of children and young persons (Sozialgesetzbuch (SGB), achtes Buch (VIII) - Kinder- und Jugendhilfe) and the Youth Court Act (Jugendgerichtsgesetz, JGG). Young adults aged between 18 and 21 can be assessed in a juvenile court (68% of cases) or in an adult court (32% of cases). 1

Jugendgerichtsgesetz offers more protection as the maximum prison sentence is set at ten years rather than 15.2

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Juvenile Justice, Sentencing and Youth Imprisonment in Germany”, University of Greifswald, 2018. 

  2. Civil Society in the Penal System (CISST) / Turkey’s Centre for Prison Studies, Addressing Prisoners with Special Needs: Life Imprisonment, 2017, p. 26. 

Jugendgerichtsgesetz gives out the following punishments 1:

  • Educational programmes
  • Disciplinary sanctions (fines, community service, etc.)
  • Suspended sentences for convictions with less than two years of prison time
  • Five year prison sentences or ten years in the most serious cases

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Juvenile Justice, Sentencing and Youth Imprisonment in Germany”, University of Greifswald, 2018. 

There are 29 juvenile detention centres in the 16 states, which account for 6,500 prison places. In 2013, young adults (between 18 and 24 years old) represented 90.6% of the population of these facilities while minors (14 to 18 years old) represented 9.4%. These facilities for minors are not overpopulated. 1

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Juvenile Justice, Sentencing and Youth Imprisonment in Germany”, University of Greifswald, 2018. 

  • The rate of occupancy in juvenile facilities is decreasing. The Herford Juvenile Detention Centre has 200 prisoners and 355 spaces. Two of the prison units were closed in 2018.

    Juvenile delinquency decreased by 50% between 2007 and 2015. For Jens Waldmann, director of the detention centre, the decrease in juvenile delinquency is correlated with the decrease in youth unemployment

    / Radio Television Suisse

Figures on minors in prison are published

on a regular basis

Minors in prison are separated from adults


The law provides for single cell accommodation for minors


The schooling of minors is compulsory


The law forbids solitary confinement for minors


Minors can only be placed in isolation for a maximum duration of two weeks (four weeks for adults).1

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) “Report to the German Government on the visit to Germany from 25 November 2015 to 7 December 2015”, 1 June 2017, p. 14. 

Juveniles spend at least eight hours per day in their cell whilst they also have access to physical activities in fresh air and academic and vocational training. Young inmates can take part in training programmes. For example, the juvenile facility of Neustrelitz (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) offers training in carpentry, metalwork, cooking and farming. Preparing inmates for reinsertion into society is carried out from the beginning of the sentence 1. They also benefit from longer visits than the adult inmates.

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Juvenile Justice, Sentencing and Youth Imprisonment in Germany”, University of Greifswald, 2018. 

Monitoring staff in juvenile facilities do not receive specific training. They often possess previous education qualifications before they begin education in the penitentiary sector. Staff have the support of social workers and counsellors. There are therapy centres in all juvenile facilities.1

Disciplinary action is a last resort as staff prioritise mediating and resolving conflicts.2

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Juvenile Justice, Sentencing and Youth Imprisonment in Germany”, University of Greifswald, 2018. 

  2. Ibid 

Number and percentage of foreign prisoners

26.2 % (16,267)

Variation in the number of foreign prisoners

a decrease of 29%

This evolution is compared to 2016. There were 22,922 foreign prisoners in 2016.1

Overall, the most represented nationalities in the federal states are Turkish, Moroccan, Polish and Romanian. This representation differs from one state to another.

Foreign prisoners are informed of their right to communicate with their consular representatives


The prison regulations are translated for foreign prisoners

in certain cases

Foreign prisoners can be assisted by an interpreter

during the sentencing process

There is no legislation that guarantees an interpreter after the beginning of the prison sentence. This includes at medical visits and court hearings. A fellow inmate can act as an interpreter during medical visits.

Complaints must be made in German. There is a language barrier for certain inmates.

Illegal stays are punishable by one year in prison. It can be up to three years if the offender has come onto national territory after being detained or deported in another country. (section 95 of the Establishment and Residence Act).

Foreign prisoners are allowed to remain in the country after having served their sentence

under certain circumstances

Many foreign prisoners are deported after they have served their sentence.1

They are sometimes born on German land but do not have German nationality. This is notably the case for Turkish individuals (the largest foreign community in Germany) as Turkey does not allow dual nationality.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated


Prisoners facing deportation do not usually have the right to work externally. 1 Places in vocational training are reserved for German inmates and prison authorities believe that efforts to support the societal reinsertion of prisoners who will remain in Germany must be given priority.

Foreign inmates can make phone calls to their home country. It is up to inmates to pay for the cost of phone calls and the call price is higher in prison than in the outside world. Phone calls are managed by the company Twilio.

Those close to foreign inmates do not benefit from a set visit schedule. Foreign inmates are rarely allowed to leave facilities.

German law establishes no distinction between foreign and German inmates but, in practice, prison conditions are more difficult for foreign inmates. Their access to certain rights, whether that be vocational training or participating in activities, is suspended during the assessment of their eventual deportation by the federal office. The inmate’s opinion is not taken into account during this assessment.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

there is no official definition

Most states consider a sentence of three to five years as a long-term sentence. Others consider a sentence longer than one year as long-term.

Cumulative sentences have a limit


There are specific prison facilities for long-term prisoners


Individuals convicted of long-term sentences are placed in closed facilities which are generally high-security. Tegel prison in Berlin holds inmates with long-term sentences who can be transferred to open institutions when it is close to their release date.

Inmates serving long-term sentences are not subject to a specific detention system.

Life sentences are banned


People serving a life sentence

2.9 % (1,794)

including 105 women


Variation in the number of people serving a life sentence

a decrease of 2 %

in relation to 2016

The Penal Code offers life sentences for the following offences: plotting a war of aggression (section 80), high treason against the Federal Republic (section 81), and assassination (section 211).

Individuals convicted of life sentences have the opportunity of a conditional release after serving 15 years of prison time (section 57a of the Penal Code). Counsellors and social workers evaluate the risk of repeat offence as well as the individual’s ability to be part of society. Only prisoners assessed as “non-dangerous” are granted conditional release.

After serving their sentence, a prisoner can be placed under preventive detention (Sicherungsverwahrung). This is carried out for individuals who have been assessed as dangerous to society by social workers and they are placed in specialist facilities. Restrictions to freedom are less severe than in the closed facilities 1. The amount of individuals in these institutions is increasing. There were 508 in 2014 and 561 in 2017.

  1. The Berlin Senate Department for Justice and Consumer Protection, “The Prison System in Berlin”, October 2015, p. 10 (Available here in German). 

Percentage of untried prisoners

21.9 % (13,956)

Variation in the number of untried prisoners

decreased by 3.4%

As of 31st January 2018, there were 13,865 persons in temporary custody 1.

Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


Separation principles are not always in effect.1

  1. Morgenstern, C., Kromrey, H.,“DETOUR – Towards Pre-Trial Detention as Ultima Ratio, Germany: First National Report“, University of Greifswald, October 2016, p. 3. 

The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners


Bail release of offenders is offered by the law if “the ends sought to be met by temporary custody can be achieved through less severe measures” (section 116 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). Release on bail does not often occur.1 The bail amount is usually between €1,500 and €7,500. Judges often combine their decision, when there is a small bail amount, with other measures to make sure that the accused does not escape justice. There is often room for negotiation with the bail amount.

  1. Morgenstern, C., Kromrey, H., ibid, p. 39. 

There are limitations to the duration of pre-trial detention and the majority of cases are assessed within six months. The maximum duration of pre-trial detention is one year. It can be longer than six months but “only if there are particular issues, a case with unusual severity or another major reason which make the assessment impossible” (section 121 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). At the end of the statutory time limit, untried prisoners must be released unless the court can reasonably justify a continuation of the pre-trial detention period.

Every year, around five people are released because it has reached the end of the maximum pre-trial detention period.

An individual placed in custody can appeal for a revision of the decision at any point (section 117 of the Code of Criminal Procedure). The claimant can receive free legal assistance in the event of an appeal against the decision to remain in custody, or if the length of the proceedings is considered excessive.1 This requirement is not necessary for the first hearing. It is rare that the accused will have legal assistance during the hearing which decides the placement in pre-trial detention.

Pre-trial detentions are automatically re-assessed after six months by a provincial appeal court (Oberlandesgericht). It must then be re-examined every three months. 2

  1. Morgenstern, C., Kromrey, H., “DETOUR – Towards Pre-Trial Detention as Ultima Ratio, Germany: First National Report”, University of Greifswald, October 2016, p. 4. 

  2. Fair Trials International, “Criminal Proceedings and Defence Rights in Germany”, February 2013, p.13. 

Untried prisoners do not benefit from a special regime of detention in line with the presumption of their innocence. They have the same rights as convicted prisoners but some of these rights are restricted in practice.

Untried prisoners are not generally allowed to receive or make phone calls.1 Access to leisure and activities is limited.

  1. British Ambassador to Berlin, “Information Pack for British Prisoners in Germany”, January 2019, p. 13. 

Data collection about prisoners’ minority or indigenous background is allowed


Identifying the accurate and recent ethnic origins of a prisoner is difficult. The prison administration does not take nationality into account. Information on ethnic or religious groups are only collected in the context of certain research projects.

Individuals originally from Sub-Saharan Africa, Sintis and Romas are the most underrepresented group in German prisons, according to a study published in 2014. 1

Minority or indigenous backgrounds are criteria for specific cell or unit assignment

in certain cases

For security reasons, prisoners can be grouped together according to their ethnic identity. This measure could be applied to avoid violence between Turkish and Kurdish prisoners, for example. 1

  1. Frieder Dünkel, “Le système pénitentiaire allemand” in Les systèmes pénitentiaires dans le monde, 2017, p. 12. 

Prisoners belonging to certain ethnic and religious groups have the same liberties as other prisoners.

The specific needs of prisoners are taken into account with regard to

  • language
  • religion
  • dietary requirements
  • culture

The prosecution or imprisonment of a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned


LGBTQI+ persons are separated from other prisoners

in certain cases

In some cases, prison authorities can place LGBTI persons in isolation for their own safety.

Authorities do not offer specific protection for LGBTI persons. Staff are not particularly aware of their situations.

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

their ID gender

Transgender individuals can face difficulties when trying to access the means to keep their own gender identity.

The Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) decided in 2017 that a third gender can be put down on official documents.

Transgender prisoners are entitled to customised searches


Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care


Transgender individuals can assert their rights to their own medical care. In certain cases, they can ask for “psychotherapy care”. 1

Conjugal visits are allowed for LGBTQI+ prisoners


LGBTI persons have access to conjugal visits but they must provide proof of an official union with the visitor. They can come into difficulties with accessing conjugal visits like other prisoners. Not all institutions have suitable areas.

The Trans Menschen in Haft Organisation has the goal of legally informing and helping LGBTI prisoners and they particularly look after transgender persons. A detailed report on the current situation was published in August 2018.

Number and percentage of elderly prisoners

3.3 % (2,118)

Elderly individuals have access to specific medical care and their living conditions vary from one state to another.

Constance prison (Baden-Württemberg) has a specific area for older people (62 years old and above). All of the cells are open between 7am and 10pm. Special programs including dedicated outings for shopping and cooking lessons are offered in order to combat loneliness and social isolation.

Prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Bavaria have specific areas for elderly prisoners. In Berlin, they are mixed with other prisoners but they benefit from specific programmes. 1

Work is not compulsory for people older than 65 years old.

The law does not provide early release for elderly prisoners.

Prison facilities are adapted to the needs of prisoners with disabilities


There are not any facilities reserved for disabled people. Two prisons in North Rhine-Westphalia have dedicated areas for physically disabled prisoners. Adapted cells are available in other institutions (from three to ten per state).1

Work is not compulsory for prisoners who receive a disability pension. 1

Death penalty is abolished

yes, in 1949 in the FRG and in 1987 in the GDR

The death penalty was abolished with the enactment in 1949 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. The Basic Law is enforced and the death penalty was abolished in the German Democratic Republic in 1987.