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.
The special security cell of the correctional facility in Schwäbisch Hall (Baden-Württemberg) is not under video surveillance, in order to ensure the privacy of prisoners.
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. ↩
The German NPM reports that people placed in the security cells at the Schwäbisch Hall (Baden-Württemberg) facility were sometimes handcuffed and shackled with steel handcuffs. The security cells at the Tegel (Berlin) facility are fitted with a pair of leather handcuffs and a pair of metal handcuffs. According to management, the quick-release metal handcuffs are used first as “a means of physical restraint to secure prisoners quickly in tense situations”. Once prisoners are secured, the metal shackles can be replaced by padded leather ones.
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.
Most states make a strict distinction between religious practice and radicalisation prevention.
Radicalisation prevention is implemented within the framework of social therapy programmes.
The federal state has not developed a national policy for the prevention of radicalisation in prisons.
Only some states implement prevention programmes. This is the case in Bavaria with the MIND programme. 2,700 officers are trained in the detection and prevention of radicalisation in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The prison service keeps record of incidents
An inmate at Sieburg prison set fire to his mattress and clothes in front of a prison officer. The inmate was admitted to hospital and then transferred back to the prison, where he was kept under constant observation in a specially secured cell after his return. No other inmates were injured.
A large-scale fire broke out in a solitary confinement cell at Weiterstadt prison. Only the inmate in the affected cell was injured and taken to hospital. Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire using heavy-duty respiratory protection. The cause of the incident was not confirmed.
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. ↩
On 17 September 2022, a man escaped from the open prison in Spandau. He had been transferred to the open-regime facility a few days before, on 13 September, to prepare for his release, scheduled for 26 October. He voluntary returned to the prison ten days after his escape and was placed in a closed facility. He is serving the rest of his sentence with no consequences: in Germany, escaping from prison is not punishable under criminal law.
Number of hostage takings
A prisoner attempted to escape from the correctional facility in Burg (Saxony-Anhalt). The man held two prison officers as hostages, one after the other. He took the first hostage when the cells were being closed for the night and managed to reach the exercise yard. He then changed hostages and demanded that other doors be opened. He was subdued within an hour.
Number of violent acts against prison staff
Four prisoners attacked a prison officer at the Straubing prison in Bavaria. The agent’s neck was reportedly injured with a key. The perpetrators of the attack were placed in isolation then transferred to different facilities in Bavaria.
The Bavarian association of prison officers (Verband der Bayerischen Justizvollzugsbediensteten) has noted a growing number of attacks on prison officers despite recently reinforced security measures in Bavarian facilities (increased video surveillance, installation of emergency alarm systems). The Minister for Justice in Bavaria recorded 54 assaults on staff members in 2021. These assaults primarily involve intentional bodily injury, hostage taking and sequestration.
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
According to the Berlin Senate Department for Justice (Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Justiz), nine prisoners were placed in isolation for over 100 days in 2020 and 2021 in the correctional facility of Tegel (Berlin). The Minister for Justice in Lower Saxony reported that as of 29 August, five inmates had been in isolation for over a year in the Land.
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.