How are old people treated in prison?

Rehabilitation - from criminal to neighbor

The way back begins in jail

The number is high: every third person will commit offenses again in the first three years after being released. This is proven by relapse statistics from the Federal Ministry of Justice.

For the study, researchers from the University of Göttingen and the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg collected data from more than one million criminals. They investigated whether inmates released in 2004 would reoffend until 2007. The basis was entries in the federal central register.

Even in prison, efforts are made to prepare the prisoners for their life in freedom. Therapies, anti-violence training, acting classes - there is a wide range of options in penal institutions (JVA). A special form of rehabilitation is the open execution. The prisoners can leave the institution during the day. Return to the prison in the evening.

In the closed prison, prisoners have the opportunity to continue their education. In the prison they can catch up on their school leaving certificate or start an apprenticeship. Because without qualifications there is no job, without a job no money - and without money, many offenders slide back into crime after their release. They steal, blackmail or deal in drugs. As a last resort, they end up in jail again.

A good level of education and a job are of course no guarantee that an ex-prisoner will be free from punishment. Conversely, not every dismissed person without a degree or job becomes a criminal again. However, education and work can help to find one's own place in the community again.

The "discharge hole"

The big problems usually only begin with the release - especially if the ex-prisoner is not entitled to a probation officer. This applies, for example, to those who have served their sentences in full. It is precisely these people who often fall into a "discharge hole", as experts call it.

"The time of dismissal is the most dangerous. Many dismissed people have debts or were addicted to drugs, have no job and problems on the housing market - these are constantly recurring problems," says criminologist Bernd Maelicke from the German Institute for Social Economy.

Life after jail is difficult, especially for intensive and repeat offenders. "These people have often been victims themselves, have seen parents beat up or alcohol-dependent. With them, rehabilitation work is the most difficult," said the prison system expert. The key is the relationship between the ex-inmate and the guardian. This applies above all to people who have committed multiple offenses.

This "hard core", as it is often called, has wounds that are difficult to heal. "They have a kind of emotional handicap and have to learn to live with this lifelong handicap without committing criminal offenses. If possible, they have to catch up on what they often did not experience in their childhood and youth: trust, stable relationships, but also Control, "says Bernd Maelicke.

The problem of funding

What released offenders need are people who accompany them outside in their everyday life. Experts call this transition management. There are various projects that implement this. The program "Rehabilitation and Social Integration" (Resi) is one of them. Resi started in Cologne in 2009.

Resi is aimed at young people between the ages of 14 and 17 who have committed criminal offenses. As part of the project, they are provided with a social worker - called a case manager - at their side. The first contact takes place in prison. After the release, the caregiver and the protégé look for an apartment together or go to the authorities.

Only two of the 26 project participants had to go back to jail by 2012. In the opinion of Hans-Joachim Plewig, this is a good cut. "As far as I know, there is no project in Germany that achieves such good results by comparison," said Plewig in an interview with Spiegel Online in 2012.

Plewig is a professor at the University of Lüneburg and provided academic support for the program. However, Resi has been on hold since 2012. The initiative lacks money. Funding is a problem that causes many rehabilitation programs to fail.

Rehabilitation is required by law

The right to rehabilitation has only existed since the 1970s. On June 5, 1973, judges of the Federal Constitutional Court decided in the so-called Lebach judgment that an ex-offender must have the chance to get back into society.

The judges' decision was preceded by a trial for the murder of four soldiers. In 1969 two men broke into a Bundeswehr ammunition dump and murdered the soldiers in their sleep. They captured weapons and ammunition with which they wanted to carry out planned blackmail. In 1970 a court sentenced her to life imprisonment. An accomplice had to go to jail for six years.

ZDF turned the act into a feature film. The television producers equipped this with original recordings of the perpetrators and gave their real names. "The Lebach case" was supposed to flicker on television screens in Germany in June 1972.

The accomplice, sentenced to six years in prison, then applied for an injunction. He wanted to prevent ZDF from broadcasting the film. The man was about to be released and feared he would be sentenced. The Mainz Regional Court and the Koblenz Higher Regional Court rejected his application. The convicted person lodged a constitutional complaint against this.

On June 5, 1973, the judges of the Federal Constitutional Court awarded the man justice. In their justification it said that the perpetrator must be given the chance to reintegrate into society after serving his sentence. The ZDF should not publicly label the man as a criminal. According to the Basic Law, he has a right to rehabilitation.

After the Lebach judgment, the penal system in Germany was reorganized. On January 1, 1977, the federal government passed the Prison Act. According to this, the aim of the prison system is to enable prisoners to lead a life free from punishment. Since 2006 this law has only been valid to a limited extent. Since then, the federal states have been allowed to regulate criminal, juvenile and pre-trial detention themselves.

The result: the penal system in Germany resembles a patchwork of different laws. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, a person convicted of life imprisonment can apply for leave for the first time after ten years. In Brandenburg he should soon be able to get out of jail after five years.

Many citizens are skeptical

Release, leave from prison, early release - many people view this critically. The media regularly report on citizens who take to the streets against the release of criminals. You don't want to live next door to a former criminal. Anyone who was once a criminal remains a criminal - that's their idea.

Your criticism is not entirely unjustified. There are convicted sex offenders who rape again shortly after being released. However, the majority of offenders, more than 60 percent, are lone perpetrators. This is also a result of the relapse statistics from the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Those who relapse belong to that "hard core", the intensive and repeat offenders. "Your social integration is the most difficult and the risk of relapse is greatest," says Bernd Maelicke. This group of people should therefore be at the center of rehabilitation work. Who finances this is another question.

Status: 03/01/2018, 2:03 p.m.