Living conditions

The law establishes a minimum standard for living space per prisoner


The floor space allocated to each prisoner is generally 8m2. This standard is not shared by all federal states.

A 2006 reform transferred the responsibility of the prison facility management to the federal states. Specific regulations were defined by the federal states with respect to facilities set up after this date.

Prisoners are accommodated in single cells

in most facilities

Prisoners may be kept in group cells if the facility is overcrowded. This standard is equally applicable to prisoners in need of assistance.

Prisoners sleep on

a bed

All the prisoners are provided with bedding


The prisoners are provided with sheets, blankets, pillows and pillowcases.

All cells have a window. The natural light is generally sufficient. In some facilities, the windows are small and at a height.

The cells/dormitories are provided with electric lighting


The electrical lighting is automatically turned on in the night.

The cells/dormitories are equipped with heating and/or air conditioning


Prisoners can smoke

in their cell

The cell is considered as a private space.1

  1. World Health Organisation, Regional Office for Europe, “Prisons and Health”, 2014, p. 142 (in English) 

The prisoners may, under certain conditions, be allowed to keep personal possessions: photographs of loved ones, objects of emotional significance. Objects obstructing the view and threatening the safety and order of the facility are prohibited. Electronic devices (television, radios, etc.) are monitored by the administration or an enterprise appointed for the purpose. The objective is to ensure that no objects are concealed from the authorities. The authorities generally restrict the number of these devices. The electric current required for the functioning of these devices is equally restricted.

Prisoners have access to water

in their cell

Showers are located in the cells/dormitories

in some facilities

In most facilities, the showers are located outside the cells. Certain facilities have recently installed showers inside the cells; for example, at the Heidering prison in Brandenburg.

The communal showers can accommodate eight to ten people. Each one has a partition and respects inmates’ privacy.

The method of accessing showers varies according to the facilities.

A decision taken by the Provincial Appeal Court (Oberlandesgericht) of Hamm (North Rhine-Westphalia) dated 2016 ensures prisoners have access to showers twice per week. (1 Vollz (Ws) 458/15). Those who work or practice sport have daily access to showers.

Types of sanitary facilities


The prison service provides cleaning products free of charge


The prison administration provides basic cleaning products.

Beddings are refreshed

yes, usually every two or three weeks

The supply of bedding is more frequent for prisoners who are unwell or receiving a special diet.

The requirement to wear a prison uniform differs across federal states.

Prisoners of certain federal states should wear prison uniforms every day. They receive uniforms specific to certain activities.

The prisoners of federal states such as Berlin are allowed to wear their own clothes while others are not; it came as a shock when the prisoners tried to bring drugs into the facility.

The prison facilities normally provide laundry services.

The administration entrusts the prisoners with the maintenance of communal areas. It delegates this task to private enterprises to maintain certain sections of the facilities.

Drinking water is free and available in all areas of the facilities


Food services are managed by

  • the prison administration
  • private services

The food service management may vary according to the facilities and federal states. Private company services are increasingly approached for catering services. The administrations have justified this decision with safety reasons.

The prison service is required to meet nutritional standards regarding quality and quantity


The prisoners often complain about the poor quality of meals.

The prison service provides food that respects special dietary needs


Medical diets and religious beliefs are considered. Some prisoners complain about no halal food.

Prisoners eat their meals in

  • in their cell
  • in a communal area

The prisoners eat meals inside their cell or in a canteen according to the facility and/or federal state.

Prisoners can buy food products


The prisoners can buy food items from the commissary once or twice a month at their own expense.

Prisoners can have access to a refrigerator

in some facilities

Refrigerators are accessed by renting, which is usually at a high price.

Prisoners are allowed to cook in their cells or in a shared space

in most facilities

Prisoners are allowed to receive food parcels

in some cases

The food parcels allowed in a number of federal states have decreased over time. For example, the parcels are banned in Berlin and Lower Saxony. The authorities have cited budget and safety reasons to justify these measures, such as the cost of safety inspections.

Part of the prisoner's food is produced by the prison

in some facilities