Contact with the outside world

All prisoners have the right to receive visits


Prisoners are generally entitled to two hours of monthly visits. This time may be spread over several visits. The maximum number is four 30-minute visits per month.

  • Due to Covid-19, visits have been banned in most regions. They are permitted in some regions, notably in Hamburg, with a screen and with special authoriation. Only lawyers are allowed to carry on meeting their clients.


Prisoners must submit a request to the prison authorities for each visit. It is possible to schedule two visits in advance.
Defendants obtain their visitation permits from the prosecutor or judge.
Convicted prisoners obtain their permits from the prison management.
The visitor must present a valid identity card or passport. Asylum-seekers must present a valid residence permit.

Visit permits are granted

within a week

People eligible to visit


For security reasons, conversations can be monitored. The presence of a sworn interpreter is required if the prisoner and visitor do not speak German. The visit takes place under supervision. The number of visits with an interpreter is limited to two per month. A maximum of two people are allowed to visit a prisoner together.

Prisoners and visitors can meet without physical barriers


A screen can separate prisoners and visitors as an exception.

Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives

yes, and special arrangements are provided

Communal spaces are organised for visits from members of the same family. Rooms for more privacy can also be reserved.

Conjugal visits are allowed


Required conditions for conjugal visits

lasting emotional relationship

Visitors are not allowed to bring objects nor food. They can buy snacks, non-alcoholic drinks and cigarettes in vending machines in the waiting area of the visitation room.

Existing legislation and policies provide for the placement of prisoners near their relatives. They may, upon request, be transferred to a prison to maintain family ties.

Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail


Mail exchanged is subject to control


Mail can be only be opened to check that it does not contain any prohibited objects.

Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail in sealed envelopes


Letters in sealed envelopes are sent in envelopes marked ‘Personal and Confidential’. Prison staff are not allowed to open them. They may be X-rayed to ensure that no prohibited items are concealed.

Staff render these envelopes unusable after use.

Letters to lawyers or the Advisory Board (Anstaltsbeirat) are confidential.

Prisoners are allowed to receive parcels

yes, under certain conditions

All parcels must be authorised by the prison director. A parcel must not contain food, personal care products or items prohibited by the regulations. The Federal Prison Act allows parcels to be received three times a year. This provision is not retained in the prison laws of all states. It is not possible to receive parcels in Berlin.

E-mail exchange is possible


A project aiming to give access to emails is being worked on in Berlin.

Prisoners are allowed to make external phone calls

  • Prepaid mobile telephones have been offered to inmates in Hamburg prison for 20 euros. SIM cards and telephone credit must be purchased by family members outside the prison. The telephones will be returned when the health crisis is over. Tablet computers intended for video calls have been made available to inmates in a prison in North-Rhine Westphalia for 30 minutes a week. Slots for telephone calls have been extended from 35 minutes a week to 10 minutes a day.

    / Prison Observatory

Prisoners are allowed to call


The phones are located

in the corridors

In Heidering Prison (Brandenburg), the phones are located in the cells.

The cost of phone calls is in line with market prices


According to a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in 2017, call costs from a prison should be as close as possible to those made outside of prison.

Many prisons delay cutting call costs. In December 2018, the GG-BO started a national campaign to demand Telio to provide cheaper phone access in prison.

Phones calls are wire tapped


Phone calls can be wire tapped. The prison administration must consider this measure to maintain public security.

The use of cell phones is authorised


Some prisons consider using phone jammers to prevent cell phone usage.

Prisoners have access to video calls with external contacts


Celle prison offers prisoners, “who are unable due to long distance, health or financial reasons to have visits, to receive calls via a Voice-over-the-Internet-Protocol service”.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 carried out from 25 November to 7 December 2015”, 1 June 2017, p.33.