I am well aware of the fact, that this might not be a common topic to talk about - But actually, in a very usual conversation with some friends of mine, I discovered that most of them know people who are actually imprisioned. This made me very curious and gave me the initiative to research that topic a bit further!
One of my closest friends, who grew up in a very poor neighborhood in western Germany, explains me how common it was that somebody would be sentenced a time in jail. „One of my neighbors, who was living in another council flat, was imprisioned because of drugs and I remember that my mom offered to watch his cats and finally we adopted one.“ This sounds so casual, so normal that it actually makes me wonder, if this is a reality in Germany or just a special case. She answers me: „This doesn't happen very often here, it is more a problem of the poor. If you life in these areas, which consists mostly of social housing and people depending on benefits, you face many crime, many abuse and prison seems not so far away anymore.“
The prison cells are about 8-10 square meters, which allows a bed, a wardrobe, a table, a chair and a toilet. You can even bring personal belongings, even a television. Whereas surfing and internet use is mostly forbidden, since it might be used to plan crimes due to uncontrollable communication. But there is free time in prisons, usually inmates have around one hour of free time and walk in the courtyard: There can be different activities, sports, football and even cooking classes or band rehearsals. Furthermore, they offer worship services, psychological support and a liberty. This actually does sound a lot like the images of TV shows such as „Orange is the new black“, it is also true that the inmates can work and earn some money: They work mostly inside their own prison, cooking or cleaning, but sometimes they are also outsourced: In the federal state Bavaria alone they made revenues about 41,5 million Euro in 2017. But this huge amount of money does not reach the people who worked all day long, a inmate gains mostly 9-18 Euro a day. This is a lot less then the minimum wage in Germany, and is often criticized as wage dumping.
Work is considered mostly as an important part of the process of social rehabilitation. This is a really big question, especially since people who have served a sentence in prison often face massive stigma. So how is the German society dealing with former prisoners? There is an interesting quote: The way how a society deals with criminals says actually a lot about her understanding of justice. And there is big evidence that prison sentences are not very effective: Nearly half of the former prisoners has a relapse within 9 years. As the criminologist Frieder Dünkler explains, prison sentences should be avoided as much as possible. So could the number of prisoners be reduced around 10%, if custodial sentences (for example, if someone is not able to pay his sentence) would be abandoned. This would also safe a lot of governmental money, since a prisoner costs the German state around 120-180 Euro each day. There also has to be a better and more flexible after-sentence-support, to ensure an effective process of rehabilitation.
Most citizen are concerned about their safety when lax rehabilitation policies are implied: Does that mean, that more potentially dangerous people are walking around and might commit even more crimes? Mr. Dünkler explains, the exact opposite is the case: We need to offer effective rehabilitation programs in order to prevent further crime from these ex-prisoners, with no chance of a normal life left, most of them get even more radicalized and more extreme. Most Scandinavian countries allow often day-releases, which is often mocked of by the German justice as some kind of „hotel stay“. But effectually, they have a really low relapse rate, maybe because inmates are often confronted with the social realty and with their family and friends.
But generally saying, the situation of the justice system in Germany is relatively good. There is a need for more staff to support the current system and more opportunities to rehabilitate. This is finally in the interest of all citizen.