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Christmas amnesty: Hundreds of prisoners released

Lewis Sanders IV
December 23, 2017

Hundreds of prisoners have been released ahead of Christmas in keeping with a holiday tradition in Germany. But some states have refused an early release, saying that it's probably unconstitutional.

A Santa Clause toy behind bars
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Rumpenhorst

Authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia released 631 prisoners ahead of Christmas so that they may celebrate the holiday with their families, said the state's Justice Ministry.

At least 160 other prisoners have been released from Berlin prisons in line with a clemency order signed by Berlin Justice Senator Dirk Behrendt of the Green Party, local media said.

Read more: Christmas market in Germany begs visitors to stop coming

Other German states, including Hamburg, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony-Anhalt, also release prisoners under amnesty ahead of the holiday.

However, not all German states participate in the Christmas holiday tradition. The southeastern state of Bavaria has refused to release prisoners on amnesty, saying it undermines judicial norms.

'Constitutionally objectionable'

Winfried Bausback CSU bayerische Justizminister
Winfried Bausback, Bavarian Justice Minister Image: picture-alliance/dpa/T. Hase

In 2014, Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback said that changing a final court decision on punishment "by way of mercy" should only be done in "absolutely exceptional cases and not merely on the basis of the calendar's contingencies."

"In addition, it would be an unjustified and constitutionally objectionable preference (to those released) for all the prisoners whose term ends at other seasons, such as Easter or Pentecost."

Read more: Words you need to understand Christmas in Germany

Murderers, sex offenders and those serving prison for a capital offense are categorically excluded from amnesty during the Christmas holiday.