Germany: walling up madness

How does Germany handle mentally disordered offenders?

Many individuals who have committed offences and suffer from mental health illness are held under the ordinary prison regime. Others are detained in forensic psychiatric hospitals. These persons have different legal statuses, may be placed in several different settings, and receive various levels of care. What is the fate of mentally disordered offenders in Germany?

Prison Insider and the French National Union for Family and Friends of People Suffering Mental Illness and/or Psychological Disability (Unafam) examined the experience of offenders with mental health problems in eight European countries. Here is an overview of the situation in Germany.

Transfers from prison to a general psychiatric hospital are often difficult due to a lack of space.


APP (Abteilung für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie - Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Unit): department of psychiatry and psychotherapy incorporated into the forensic hospital.

Double Track (or.: Zweispurigkeit): distinction in criminal law between sentencing and preventive or rehabilitative measures. This system applies to individuals with mental illness or addiction from the time they commit an offence. They are placed under treatment measures, so-called preventive measures, if declared not criminally responsible. If their judgment was impaired at the time of the event, then they receive a sentence. Both sentences can occur concurrently.

FTA (Forensisch Therapeutischen Ambulanz - Forensic ambulatory therapy clinic): department in Berlin’s Charité University Hospital that provides follow-up treatment for individuals released from prison or a forensic psychiatric hospital who are considered violent or have committed sex-related crimes.

Rehabilitative and Preventive Measures (Maßregel der Besserung und Sicherung): measures applying to any individual who has committed an offence, whether they are found responsible, partially responsible, or not responsible. Some measures deprive the individual of liberty and mandate treatment, such as admission in forensic psychiatric hospitals.

SothA (Sozialtherapeutische Anstalt/Einrichtungen - Socio-therapeutic facility/unit): prison unit or separate facility that mainly admits individuals found guilty of a major sex offence or serious injury to another person. It facilitates their reintegration into society and prevents reoffending through multidisciplinary management by psychologists, educators and social workers.