THE GERMAN AND SWEDISH REHABILITATION SYSTEMS
The Committee visited Sweden and Germany in May 2004.
The German Prison Act 1976, which came into force
on 1 January 1977 and applies only to adult corrections, is the
legal basis for prisoners' rights and duties. Like all aspects
of the German criminal justice system, correctional practices
are based on civil rather than common law.
The Prison Act includes a number of underlying general
principles as well as 200 articles setting out the detailed regulation
of the prison system. The fundamental principle underlying the
German penal system is the re-socialization or rehabilitation
goal. The other core principles include the principle of normalization:
life in prison will resemble general living conditions outside
prison as much as possible; and the principle of damage reduction:
prison authorities will counteract the damaging consequences of
Of central importance for the implementation of the
reconciliation goal are the norms regarding individual correctional
planning (Articles 6 and 7 of the German Prison Act 1976). They
stipulate that, as a rule, the prison administration is obliged
to investigate the prisoner's background and needs in order to
develop specific measures for his reintegration into society.
In practice, the most important of these measures are the so-called
relaxations, i.e. home leaves, work furloughs, open prisons and
other ways to give the prisoner a chance to be outside the prison
while still serving the sentence. The only prerequisites for such
measures are that there is neither a risk of absconding nor of
committing new offences.
While the Prison Act 1976 is a federal law, its implementation
and administration rests with the hands of the individual states.
The Prison Act is supplemented by a large number of administrative
regulations on the level of individual states as well as on the
level of particular prisons. The Minister of Justice of the respective
state is responsible for the supervision of the prisons of his
territory. The Justice Ministries are competent to promulgate
general administrative guidelines, binding for the staff of all
its prisons. Such guidelines also specify conditions for which
the Ministry of Justice reserves decisions for itself or makes
them subject to their approval.
German law differentiates only between "open
prisons" and "closed prisons": the latter imply
the presence of effective measures against absconding while the
former make do with little or no such measures. In practice, however,
special high security units were introduced in the 1970s.
In principle the entire German prison regime (planning,
relaxations, early release, etc.) is geared towards the goal of
rehabilitation. However, since 1998 some politicians have begun
to question the rehabilitation goal enshrined in the German Prison
Act1976, partly as a result of 'penal populism', the idea that
the population demands more emphasis on security from imprisoned
offenders than on their eventual resocialization. Statistics of
home leaves and other relaxations have significantly reduced in
many German states in the last five years.
Since 1991, the rate of imprisonment in Germany has
increased and the prison population now stands at 96 per 100,000
of the population.
This increase is not due to a similar increase in major crime,
but rather to more and longer prison sentences and to a reduction
of parole. Since the 1980s, this was particularly true for drug
offenders, who by now make-up at least one-third of the prison
population. Furthermore, since 1990, the number of life sentences
has more than doubled (while the number of paroled lifers has
remained the same).
Prison staff are mainly full-time guards. Employment
of prison personnel staff is left to the competency of each individual
state; there are no national criteria. Until the 1970s, female
prison personnel were employed only in women's prisons. Now female
staff also work in male prisons. Prison personnel receive mainly
on-the-job training. In addition, there is a long tradition of
staff members with an agricultural or artesian background, to
run the prison industries. The employment of academically trained
personnel became more common after the Prison Act 1976 made specific
reference to clerics, medical doctors, educators, psychologists
and social workers. These full-time services are supplemented
by visits from some of the regular social services of the community
or the state (e.g. drug counsellors, labour counsellors, etc.)
and private NGOs offering after-care services. Legal services
for prisoners are mostly lacking since legal advice may only be
offered by practicing lawyers.
Women form only a small part (about 4%) of the prison
population. As a rule, they have to be kept separate from male
prisoners. There are eight women prisons in Germany. The remainder
of the female prison population is housed in separate wings of
mens' prisons. Exceptions from this 'principle of separation'
are legally possible in favour of joint treatment measures. Among
the few examples of such practices are:
- The small socio-therapeutic
institution in Hamburg-Altengamme, which is run on a completely
- The training kitchen of the women's institution
in Vechta (Lower Saxony) accepts also male trainees.
Since the 1970s, there has been a continual increase
in drug arrests, in sentences for drug-related offences and in
the numbers of drug users in prison. The latter number cannot
be easily obtained from official statistics but it has been suggested
that over 50% of the prison population are drug users. Estimates
indicate that at least one-third of the prison population is dependant
on illegal drugs. Needle-sharing and ensuing HIV-infections have
become a major concern for prison medical services. But, unlike
many of their European counterparts, German prisons do not provide
hepatitis B vaccinations to prisoners. To reduce this risk, methadone
programs in prison were introduced in the 1990s. A few prisons
have successfully experimented with supplying sterile hypodermic
needles to addicts. For example, the women's prison in Vechta
and the Lingen I men's prison have been using prevention measures
including sterile syringes since 1996. Drug treatment programmes
have not been implemented uniformly throughout the prison estate.
In recent years, privatisation has been impacting
on correctional practices. Legal experts in Germany are largely
in agreement that some aspects of the prison operations, especially
those pertaining to the deprivation of liberty, the use of physical
force and disciplinary matters have to remain a monopoly of the
state. Other areas are seen as legally valid candidates for outsourcing
(e.g. medical services, providing food for prisoners, etc.). Experience
with local outsourcing indicates, however, that the attempt to
separate these areas causes considerable organizational problems
that may reduce the advantages hoped for. No published research
studies exist, but the state of Bremen is, after only a few years,
reconsidering its outsourcing of medical, educational and labour
Swedish penal legislation emphasizes the importance
of handling offenders without deprivation of liberty. Prison is
viewed as the last possible resort. Alternative sanctions available
include fines, conditional sentences, probation and committal
to special care. When imprisonment is unavoidable, the underlying
penal philosophy is for the prisoner to maintain close contact
and co-operation with society, through contacts with family, NGOs
and restorative community projects, including work with victims
of crime. The treatment of prisoners is designed to promote the
prisoner's readjustment and reintegration into society on release
and counteract the negative consequences of imprisonment. Treatment
is directed from the outset towards preparing the prisoner for
life outside prison.
Children who have committed crimes are almost never
committed to prison. It is the opinion of the Swedish Government
and the Prison and Probation Service that children should only
live in prison in exceptional cases.
The development of the Swedish penal law has over
the years aimed at reducing the use of shorter prison sentences.
Much work has been carried out to find alternatives that do not
entail deprivation of a person's liberty, e.g. community service.
Sweden has a prison population rate of 75 per 100,000
of the national population.
Each year about 14,000 people in Sweden are sentenced to imprisonment.
The number of prisoners entering prison has dropped however in
the last few years to around 9,500. This is mainly due to use
of intensive supervision with electronic monitoring as an alternative
way of serving prison sentences of up to three months.
The Prison Estate
In the main, Swedish prisons are small and locally
based. There are currently 55 prisons in operation spread throughout
the country, six of which are designated for women prisoners.
Swedish prisons are classified as open or closed. Most prisons
are small with a capacity, on average, of around 45 beds. There
are a small number of larger prisons with a capacity of 100 to
200 beds. These prisons house inmates convicted of serious crimes
and sentenced to longer terms of imprisonment.
The majority of prisoners in Sweden have their own
cell. In some open prisons there are a few cells for more than
one prisoner. Prison cells have an area of six square meters.
They are equipped with a bed, a wardrobe, a chair and a bookshelf.
Inmates are permitted to have few personal belongings. Most cells
also have a TV and a radio.
The National Prison and Probation Administration
The Ministry of Justice administers the Prison and
Probation Service in Sweden. The Service has been unitary since
1943. Until 1998 this meant in practice that there were joint
national and regional administrations but the actual delivery
of both services was organised separately. The National Prison
and Probation Administration is the central administration unit
of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service. Since 1998 within
the five regional administrations there are 36 integrated local
prison and probation administrations which are responsible for
the all the remand and ordinary prisons and probations offices
within their boundaries. The chief officers of the local administrations
are based in either one of the prisons or one of the probation
offices. The National Prison and Probation Administration is responsible
for the direction and supervision of correctional treatment in
penal institutions, including remand prisons where persons who
await trial are detained. It is responsible for enforcing prison
sentences, supervising probationers and parolees. (Act on Correctional
Treatment in Institutions, section 2.)
An important feature of the Swedish system is its
operational independence, which has applied in all public agencies
in Sweden for the last 250 years. The Minister of Justice has
parliamentary responsibility for the legislative system, covering
courts, police, prosecution, prison and probation. However, each
part of the system has its own director general who is responsible
to the government as a whole for his or her agency. According
to the Swedish constitution the Minister is not allowed to intervene
in any operational matters. The director general is appointed
by the government rather than by the respective minister for 6
years, a period usually extended for a further 3 years. The consequence
of this constitutional arrangement is that when there is a major
operational incident, such as an escape or a riot, the Minister
does not interfere and is not held responsible. Instead, the director
general is held accountable by parliament.
The Swedish Prison and Probation Service employs
approximately 7,500 people, of whom 809 were probation officers
and 4,460 were prison officers. There were also 320 senior prison
staff and over 400 'treatment' staff. Approximately 43% of all
employees are women. Just over one fourth of the prison officers
and 71% of probation officers are women.
Education and Work
The Prison Administration is under a statutory duty
to provide a prisoner with work. As a corollary, prisoners are
under an obligation to work or to participate in a course or study.
The principle is that every person deprived of freedom must spend
the time in a useful way, therefore work or education must be
work includes vocational training and specially arranged activity
outside the institution during working hours.
The Swedish Prison Service takes into consideration
the specific situation of women prisoners. The Prison Treatment
Act 1998, section 8a (Women) provides that "a woman shall
normally be placed in a prison especially designed for women only.
A woman may not be placed in prison where men are placed without
her agreement". Of the women appearing before a court each
year, just over 500 receive prison sentences. Their most common
crime is theft, followed by narcotics offences, fraud, embezzlement
and drunken driving. Most women in prison are between 35 and 44
years of age, and the majority receive short sentences (less than
Decisions concerning the inmate's transfer from one
institution to another are vested with relevant directors and
with the National Prison and Probation Administration. The regional
director decides on matters of transfer of inmates between local
institutions in his/her region. The director of a national institution
considers the inmate's transfer to a local institution. The National
Prison and Probation Administration decide on transfers of inmates
between national institutions.
To facilitate inmates' social readjustment and reintegration,
short-term release programmes are operated. Swedish law refers
to "appropriate period of time", which affords discretion
in deciding how long an inmate remains outside a prison institution.
A prisoner may be allowed to work, study or participate in vocational
training or other specially arranged activities outside the prison
during working hours. This is usually only granted in the final
phase of the sentence prior to conditional release when a prisoner
is transferred to an open prison.
A prisoner in need of treatment for drug abuse may likewise apply
to receive such treatment externally. This is usually only granted
at a later stage of a prison sentence prior to conditional release
but may extend into the period after the prisoner has been released
on conditional parole.
The Probation Service
There are 45 probation offices within the local integrated
administrations. There are just over 800 probation officers, each
with an average of 45 offenders under supervision. They are responsible
for preparing pre-sentence reports for courts, for finding suitable
work or community treatment programmes for offenders, for supervising
offenders on probation or conditional release and, increasingly,
for supervising those under intensive supervision with electronic
While all offenders are allocated to a named probation
officer, much of the supervision is actually carried out by trained
volunteers. The national Association of Lay Supervisors has about
4,500 members who carry out this work, as well as visiting prisoners
and increasing public awareness of the need for this work.
|Country||England and Wales
|Ministry responsible for prisons
||Home Office||Ministry of Justice
||Ministry of Justice
||HM Prison Service||Swedish Prison and Probation Administration
||Prison and Probation Service
|Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners)
(as at 26 March 2004).
(as at 1 September 2003).
(as at 31 March 2003).
|Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
(based on estimated national population of 52.79 million at March 2004).
(based on estimated national population of 8.96 million at September 2003).
(based on estimated national population of 82.56 million at end March 2003).
|Pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners (% of prison population)
(31 March 2003)
(1 Sept 2003)
(31 March 2003)
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2002
(31 March 2003)
(30 April 2003 - under 18)
(1 Oct 2002 - under 18)
(of sentenced prisoners only 31 March 2001- under 18)
(30 June 2002)
(1 Oct 2002, of sentenced prisoners only)
(31 March 2003)
|Number of establishments
|Official capacity of the prisons system
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2001)
(31 March 2003)
|Occupancy level (based on official capacity)
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2002)
(31 March 2003)
|Recent prison population trend
Based on an estimated national population of 82.62 million at
November 2003 (from Council of Europe figures). Back
Based on an estimated national population of 8.96 million at September
2003 (from Council of Europe figures). Back
Section 12 SFS 1974:203. Back
Section 10 SFS 1974:203. Back
Section 11 SFS 1974:203. Back
Section 34 SFS 1974:203. Back
Collated from statistics provided by the International Centre
for Prison Studies World Prison Brief available at www.icps.kcl.ac.uk.