Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



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 imprisonment.

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.

Prison Population

Since 1991, the rate of imprisonment in Germany has increased and the prison population now stands at 96 per 100,000 of the population.[320] 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

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 Prisoners

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 co-correctional basis;
  • 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 services.


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.

Prison Population

Sweden has a prison population rate of 75 per 100,000 of the national population.[321] 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.

Prison Staff

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.[322] The principle is that every person deprived of freedom must spend the time in a useful way, therefore work or education must be available.[323] Prison work includes vocational training and specially arranged activity outside the institution during working hours.[324]

Women Prisoners

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 one year).


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.[325] 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 monitoring.

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.


England and Wales
Ministry responsible for prisons Home OfficeMinistry of Justice Ministry of Justice
Prison administration HM Prison ServiceSwedish Prison and Probation Administration Prison and Probation Service
Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees and remand prisoners) 75,167
(as at 26 March 2004).
(as at 1 September 2003).
(as at 31 March 2003).
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population) 142
(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) 17.8%
(31 March 2003)
(1 Sept 2003)
(31 March 2003)
Female prisoners6.1%
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2002
(31 March 2003)
young prisoners
(30 April 2003 - under 18)
(1 Oct 2002 - under 18)
(of sentenced prisoners only 31 March 2001- under 18)
Foreign prisoners10.8%
(30 June 2002)
(1 Oct 2002, of sentenced prisoners only)
(31 March 2003)
Number of establishments 138
Official capacity of the prisons system 66,722
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2001)
(31 March 2003)
Occupancy level (based on official capacity) 112.7%
(26 March 2004)
(1 Oct 2002)
(31 March 2003)
Recent prison population trend 1992  45,817
1998  65,298
2001  66,301
1992  5,431
1998  5,290
2001  6,089
1992  57,448
1998  78,584
2001  78,707

320   Based on an estimated national population of 82.62 million at November 2003 (from Council of Europe figures). Back

321   Based on an estimated national population of 8.96 million at September 2003 (from Council of Europe figures). Back

322   Section 12 SFS 1974:203. Back

323   Section 10 SFS 1974:203. Back

324   Section 11 SFS 1974:203. Back

325   Section 34 SFS 1974:203. Back

326   Collated from statistics provided by the International Centre for Prison Studies World Prison Brief available at  Back

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