Security, order, and discipline
Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures
Celle prison, in Lower Saxony, has a high-security (Sicherheitsstation) unit which has a capacity of ten people. Stammheim prison, in Stuttgart, also has a high-security unit which was built in the 1970s. In the first instance it is reserved for prisoners convicted of terrorism, notably members of the Red Army Faction (Rote Armee Fraktion, RAF).
CCTV is only authorised in certain cases when the authorities assess that is necessary for ensuring safety. The justification for CCTV must be stated in official documents and the individual concerned must have been warned. The camera being visible is not enough; the individual must be aware if the camera is recording.
Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness
Full-body search methods and procedures are controlled and can be regular and without any specific suspicions. Full-body searches must be carried out respectfully and in two stages; only half of the body is stripped in each phase.
Mechanical means of restraint (Fixierung) are used as a last resort and under strict medical supervision.
A delegate of the CPT visited Germany in 2015. She reported that the use of mechanical restraint has been extremely rare over the past year in most of the facilities visited. 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. 5. ↩
Security staff carry
Security staff are not armed but they can obtain handcuffs and pepper spray from prison authorities. Firearms are only used if other methods fail and they are authorised in the event of a mutiny or an escape attempt.
The prison service keeps record of incidents
Number of escapes
In 2015, there were seven escapes 1.
Council of Europe, “Annual Penal Statistics. Space I – Prison Populations. Survey 2016”, 2017, p.113. ↩
Individual acts of protest are recorded
A prisoner at Goldlauter Prison went on several hunger strikes, self-harmed and attempted suicide. He was protesting against being placed in isolation and the harassment he has been subjected to since December 2020. He has now filed a complaint to the Thuringian State Parliament Petitions Committee.
Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing
Federal penitentiary law does not define disciplinary offences. They are governed by regional prison authorities in most states.
Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony do not define disciplinary offences. 1
The main offences are:
- a lack of respect for staff and other inmates
- non-compliance with timetables
- possession of a phone
- drug use
- bringing drugs into the facility
There is no definition of a serious breach of discipline which is punishable by solitary confinement for up to four weeks.
Frieder Dünkel, “Le système pénitentiaire allemand” in Les systèmes pénitentiaires dans le monde, 2017, p. 13. ↩
Disciplinary sanctions are the following:
- official warning
- limiting use of finances (maximum three months)
- limiting access to reading, radio and television (maximum three months)
- limiting access to items and leisure activities (maximum three months)
- revoking access to leisure activities (maximum four weeks)
- limiting external communication (maximum three months)
- solitary confinement (maximum four weeks)
Disciplinary offences are investigated
in some cases
Violation allegations are not automatically subject to an investigation. Investigations generally confirm the allegations made by authorities.
The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate
Adversarial debates take place before a disciplinary council.
In order to be seen by a judge, a prisoner must request it from the Court for the Execution of Prison Sentences (Strafvollstreckungskammer) of the regional court which the facility belongs to.
Disciplinary punishments fall within the jurisdiction of administrative law. Courts simply verify the correct application of the texts and their decision is usually processed within four to five months.
Hearings are often short and sanctions are frequently declared quickly.
Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer
Prisoners threatened with disciplinary action can benefit from legal assistance in most cases but exceptions are possible.
Penitentiary laws vary from one state to another. German penitentiary law is complex and there are not many specialists in this area. The procedures are long and the amounts of money allocated to legal assistance are small.
The disciplinary council, a collegial body, decides on the suitable punishments.
Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions
Within two weeks of a decision, the prisoner can appeal. This must be written in German.
The appeal may consist of:
- The cancellation of a decision (Anfechtunsklage)
- A court declaring the illegality of the decision. (Feststellungsantrag). This latter approach may be adopted in order to avoid a similar decision being made in the future. It also makes it possible to request compensation.
Prisoners can also access two other levels of jurisdiction :
- The Regional Appeal Court (Oberlandesgericht)
- The Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof)
Five percent of decisions are overturned after an appeal. 1
Frieder Dünkel, “Le système pénitentiaire allemand” in Les systèmes pénitentiaires dans le monde, 2017, p. 16. ↩
Disciplinary sanctions affect the length of the sentence. The possibility of obtaining a sentence adjustment after receiving a disciplinary sanction is considerably reduced.
Prisoners who have recurring or severe disciplinary sanctions can be transferred from open to closed facilities.
Solitary confinement can be used as
Solitary confinement as a punishment is abolished in the state of Brandenburg.
Solitary confinement is decided
- by the disciplinary board
- at a magistrate’s order
- by the prison governor
The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited
yes, four weeks
Solitary confinement can be extended
The Sentence Reduction Council (Vollzugskonferenz) makes decisions on renewing placements in solitary confinement.
Prisoners in solitary confinement receive regular medical care
Solitary confinement cells are smaller than other cells. They are equipped with a bed, a metal toilet, and a sink.
Prisoners in solitary confinement have the right to at least one hour outside per day.
A prisoner in solitary confinement loses the right to participate in activities, work, and training.