Daily life

All prisoners are entitled to spend at least one hour a day in the open air


The prison service offers activities to prisoners


There are not enough activities to offer to all prisoners outside of work or education.

  • The German NPM noted the limited offering of sports and professional activities.

    / National Agency for the Prevention of Torture (Nationale Stelle zur Verhütung von Folter), "Annual Report 2021" , p. 90 (in German)
  • Eight prisoners at the Plötzensee (Berlin) correctional facility participated in a play produced by aufBruch. This initiative gathers a group of professionals and prisoners to work on plays.

    / Taz
  • The sociotherapeutic department of the Landsberg am Lech (Bavaria) correctional facility organises meetings with former prisoners. This initiative was launched to support prisoners’ reintegration by informing them of the challenges they may face after their release.

    / National Agency for the Prevention of Torture (Nationale Stelle zur Verhütung von Folter), "Annual Report 2021" , p. 89 (in German)

There are designated places for physical activities and sports


Most prisons have dedicated space for physical activities or sports. Prisoners have access to a gym even when no sport activities are planned.

Burg prison in Saxony-Anhalt offers yoga, pilates and bodybuilding classes.1

  1. Lana Osment, “The Complexity of Rehabilitation in Open and Closed Prison Setting”, Lund University, 2018, p. 36. 

  • The Hünfeld (Hesse) correctional facility schedules 225 hours of sport per prisoner per week broken up into three sessions. The activities on offer are football, basketball, table tennis, badminton, aerobics, spinning and fitness training. Ping-pong tables, fitness blocks and small basketball courts are available in the yard.

    / Osthessen News

There are designated places for cultural activities


Most prisons offer art and craft workshops, in poetry, pottery, painting, etc. Burg prison in Saxony-Anhalt offers a book club and creative art therapy.1

  1. Lana Osment, “The Complexity of Rehabilitation in Open and Closed Prison Setting”, Lund University, 2018, p. 36. 

Prison facilities have a library


Work is compulsory


Work is compulsory in most states. Five states have abolished mandatory work.

All prisoners are allowed to work


Prisoners in solitary confinement cannot work. There are not enough jobs available. Around 30% of the prison population cannot access work.

Labour as a punitive measure is prohibited


Prisoners can only work after a settling-in period, fixed by the prison administration at one month.

The main jobs offered are:

  • carpentry
  • metalworking
  • basic assembly work
  • maintenance work (cleaning, catering, laundry)1

Industrial assembly work is the most common job type.

  1. Lana Osment, “The Complexity of Rehabilitation in Open and Closed Prison Setting”, Lund University, 2018, p.33. 

  • Every year leading up to Christmas, prisoners at the Torgau (Saxony) correctional facility sell products they have manufactured themselves. The sale takes place in stands located in front of the prison and on the Internet, on the Saxony prison service’s website.

    / MDR Sachsen
  • At the Hünfeld (Hesse) correctional facility, prisoners can work in the following sectors: electricity, metalwork and manufacturing.

    / Osthessen News

The prison governor is responsible for work allocation. Allocation will consider capacities, competencies and expressed choices of the prisoners.

Maximum daily/weekly working hours are set, including at least one day of rest


Prisoners work eight hours a day, Monday to Friday. In Bremervörde prison, in Lower Saxony, prisoners work 35.5 hours per week, from 7am to 5pm, five days a week.

Prisoners are paid for their work


More than half the salary is deposited in a savings account. This aims to facilitate life after release. Where appropriate, one part is intended for the civil parties. The prisoner is free to have the remainder.
Prisoners from Rosdorf prison (Göttingen) contacted the Knast-Soligruppe Göttigen support group by mail. They spoke out about their working conditions, which according to them are unfavourable. Prisoners receive the main part of their salary upon release. The cash allocated to the Sicherungsverwahrte is replaced by vouchers.

See the column Persons sentenced to long-term imprisonment for more info on Sicherungsverwahrte.

Salaries are

significantly below the national minimum wage

The hourly rate in prison varies from €1 to €3. The minimum monthly salary is €1,200 on the job market. It is €300 in prison.

  • Of the 3,500 prisoners in the correctional facilities in Saxony who practice professional activities, around 2,500 receive a maximum salary of 2.15 euros per hour. Deputy Juliane Nagel (Die Linke party) has called for an increase in the compensation of working prisoners.

    / Taz

Prisoners are paid on a piecework basis


Their income is subject to social contributions


Prisoners are excluded from the pension system.

Prisoners have the right to join trade unions


The Prisoners Union - National Organisation (Gefangenen-Gewerkschaft / Bundesweite Organisation - GG-BO) was created in May 2014 in the Tegel prison (Berlin). In 2016, GG-BO counted 850 prisoner members in more than 70 prisons. It is not exactly a trade union as they have no right to strike nor to negotiate collectively.

The main demands of the GG-BO are the implementation of a legal minimum wage, full social security cover (pension, health insurance) and trade union freedom behind bars.

GG-BO members complain about harassment: increased mail control, cell searches, exclusion from work or forced transfers.

In Heidering prison, external service providers have run education and vocational training programmes since 2013.1

  1. The Berlin Senate Department for Justice and Consumer Protection, “The Prison System in Berlin”, October 2015, p. 26, here in German

Education is provided

in all facilities

Secondary level classes are offered to prisoners who have not achieved this level.

Vocational training is provided


Many prisons offer vocational courses. In Berlin, prisons organise classes to gain qualifications to become a fitter, locksmith, cook, joiner, carpenter, gardener, automotive mechatronics technician and bicycle mechanic.1

  1. The Berlin Senate Department for Justice and Consumer Protection, “The Prison System in Berlin”, October 2015, p. 26, available here in German

Prisoners are allowed to keep themselves informed regularly on public affairs


Prisoners have access to a television

yes, rented

The prisoners in safe custody (Sicherungsverwahrte) from Rosdorf prison (Göttingen) lost the right to keep pornographic documents and DVDs in September 2017. They can no longer record TV programmes. They can watch repeat broadcast for three days.

See Persons sentenced to long-term imprisonment column for more info on Sicherungsverwahrte.

Prisoners have access to a radio


Prisoners have access to the press


The prison service allows access to Internet

in some states

Internet use in prison is debated. Pilot projects are run to allow prisoners to access employment agencies and one probation assistance website. This is the case in the state of Thuringia. All other websites are blocked.
Thep risoners in safe custody (Sicherungsverwahrte) from Rosdorf prison (Göttingen) are rallying for provision of internet access. They have access to seven websites. These sites are censored. The Berlin Justice senator, Dirk Behrendt, announced, in December 2021, that prisoners in the capital would have access to the internet. Prisoners would be able to access the press and learning resources online. Social media would remain inaccessible. Prisoners would be charged for the internet access. Berlin is backing the project and signs a six-year contract with a communications company. The prison for women in Lichtenberg would be the first one to welcome the programme mid-2022. The rest of the prisons in Berlin would then follow in its footsteps in 2023.

  • On 1 December, the Lichtenberg (Berlin) correctional facility became the first German facility to have equipped all of its cells with multimedia systems. Prisoners can use them to make video calls from their cells, watch movies, play games or browse the web. They cannot use the Internet freely, and only a limited selection of sites, such as those of the Berlin Land, public libraries or the job centre, are available. Social media and services including Youtube, Netflix and Spotify are blocked. Email is not yet available. This new system makes contact with loved ones less expensive: the cost of a call dropped from 7 cents per minute to 3 cents. However, video calls cost 20 cents per minute. Senator Lena Kreck (Die Linke party) describes this digitisation as “an important step that should be taken in all prisons by October 2023”.

    / Taz

The most represented religions are Protestantism and Catholicism. Islam is in second or third place in some states 1. Most of the prisoners have no religious affiliation.2

  1. Irene Becci, “Religion and Religions in Prisons: Observations from the United States and Europe” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 14 August 2017, p. 244. 

  2. Sarah J. Jahn, “Being Private in Public Space? The ‘Administration’ of ‘Religion’ in German Prisons”, in Journal of Religion in Europe 4/2016, p. 409. 

Prisoners are free to practice their religion and follow their beliefs


Prisoners can receive visits from a minister of their faith 1. Conversations between them are confidential.

Imams are mostly volunteers. As they lack in numbers in some states, they cannot assist all prisoners who make a request. Muslim chaplaincy is the subject of debate. Most states express willingness to offer one. However, there are no contracts with Muslim organisations. The provisions for religion in public law are based on Catholicism. German law is not adapted to the characteristics of Islam. 2

  1. Irene Becci, “Religion and Religions in Prisons: Observations from the United States and Europe”, in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 14 August 2017, p. 244. 

  2. Sarah J. Jahn, “Being Private in Public Space? The ‘Administration’ of ‘Religion’ in German Prisons”, in Journal of Religion in Europe 4/2016, pp. 405-416. 

Dedicated places of worship are available

in all facilities

Each prison has a space in which it is possible to organise a collective religious service (mainly worship, but also Bible study groups). Some older prisons have a chapel. Places of worship (chapels or multi-cultural rooms) can, in any case, be for everyone’s use. Volunteer chaplains meet religious prisoners in a room reserved for visitors.

There are chaplains in the prisons

depends on the religion

The prison service remunerates the chaplains

depending on the religion

Chaplains are paid when the administration deems that the number of participants is sufficient. Each facility usually pays one Catholic and one Protestant chaplain. Some receive only half of their salary or are volunteers for the reason stated above (Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western-Pomerania, Brandenburg, Thuringia, etc.).

Individuals or organisations from the outside are allowed to participate in prison activities


Authorisations for external actors to take part in prison activities are provided by

the prison administration

Prisoners are allowed to make use of financial resources


Financial resources are accessible

in a named account

The named account is funded by four types of sources:

  • funds given by relatives
  • remuneration for work done in detention (3/7 of the salary)
  • release earnings (4/7 of the salary). This account is not provided for in the prison laws of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Western-Pomerania, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony and Thuringia
  • funds which the prisoner had prior to their arrest. While in prison, prisoners cannot manage the money they accumulated prior to their incarceration.

Destitute prisoners receive financial or in-kind support


Those detained without resources and who unable to work receive financial assistance. The administration pays them an allowance of approximately €35 per month. This amount varies according to the prison.

Prisoners are allowed to discuss matters relating to their conditions of imprisonment


Discussions about the conditions of detention between prisoners and prison authorities take place within a pre-established legal framework: the principle of co-responsibility of prisoners (Gefangenenmitverantwortung, GMV). This framework entitles their elected representative to take part in the decision-making process concerning prison life. This representative conveys the concerns of their fellow inmates to the administration.

For more information on the principle of co-responsibility of prisoners, see Sarah Watts’ thesis, University of Münster (2013).

Prisoners have the right of association


Prisoners do not have the right to strike. They do not have the right of collective negotiation.

Prisoners have the right to vote


By court order and in exceptional circumstances, a prisoner can be deprived of the right to vote. Such deprivation may be pronounced in cases of treason or high treason against the Federal Republic of Germany.

Prisoners in an open facility may go to the polling station or cast a postal vote.

Those in closed facilities cast a postal vote. The prison administration guarantees vote confidentiality and the ballot papers are placed in sealed envelopes.

The publication is subject to censorship. The Lichtblick, published at Tegel prison, in Berlin, is the only one not subject to censorship. The authorities have tried, unsuccessfully, to reduce its freedom.

  • A prisoner at the Werl prison filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court and received a favourable ruling. He had been forbidden by prison authorities to receive a visit from a journalist for an interview. This decision had been confirmed in the lower court. The correctional facility justified its refusal with the North Rhine-Westphalia law on sentence execution. This law states that a visit can be forbidden “if there is a risk that contact with persons who are not relatives of the prisoners […] could have a negative impact on the prisoners or hinder their integration”. In contrast, the constitutional judges held the view that fundamental law gives everyone the right to express their opinion via speech, writing and images.

    / Westfalen-Blat