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A prisoner staring out of a prison window
Image: picture alliance/dpa/P. Seeger

Germany looks to reintegrate criminal migrants

Merga Yonas Bula
April 18, 2018

The number of migrants in German prisons has steadily risen since 2015, according to data obtained by DW from five state justice ministries. German states are putting more resources into reintegrating them into society.


Since 2015, the number of Syrian, Afghan, Eritrean, Iraqi and Serbian migrants in German prisons has risen steadily, according to information obtained from five state justice ministries, which highlighted the trend in the largest groups of migrants arriving to the country in recent years.

"Most of the detainees in correctional facilities were property crime, offenses involving bodily harm and violations of the Narcotic Drugs Act," Jörg Herold, spokesman for the Saxony state Justice Ministry told DW.

In the state of Saarland, the majority of offenders, both adults and minors, were jailed for violent crimes, theft and drug-related offenses, said Sirin Ozfirat, spokesperson for the Saarland Justice Ministry.

Read more: German city of Cottbus grapples with violence between locals and refugees

Although the ministries of justice in Hamburg and Lower Saxony do not specify which crimes have been committed by migrants, their respective spokespersons confirmed that the number of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi, Eritrean and Serbian prisoners had risen.

"Particularly since 2016, we have seen an increase in the number of prisoners in custody," stated Marion Klabunde, a press officer for Hamburg's justice authority. "This increase is reflected throughout the entire prison system."

DW Infographic on the number of foreign prisoners in Germany

More people, more crime

The main factor contributing to the increase of non-German prisoners in the country's penitentiary system is the influx of migrants from 2014 to 2016, said Dirk Baier, who heads the Institute of Delinquency and Crime Prevention at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.

"More people always mean more people who behave criminally," Baier told DW. "It will be interesting to see how the penal institutions have to react to these 'new' groups of prisoners, develop their own concepts or something similar."

Read more: Aid money alone will not be enough to stop root causes of migration: data analysis

In 2015, Germany witnessed nearly 900,000 people enter the country and apply for asylum in what European leaders described as a migration "crisis." Many of the migrants were fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Figures from Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees shows that migrants originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea were the largest groups to arrive in the country in 2016.

In the state of Bavaria, the total number of foreign prisoners jumped from 3,902 in January 2015 to 5,214 in January 2018. In the state of Hamburg, the data show the number of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Serbia in correctional facilities increased from 301 in 2015 to 500 in 2017.

Infographic showing number of asylum seekers

Serbian inmates

But Baier noted that the three largest groups of asylum seekers –  from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan –  only doubled since the height of the migration crisis. However, the number of Serbian prisoners rose despite no noticeable increase in migration to Germany.

"Somewhat surprising is the high number of Serbian detainees," said Baier. "The increases in the numbers cannot be attributed to the increase in the number of refugees since 2015, because Serb refugees did not make up most of the refugee population."

Reintegration begins in prison

Since 2015, federal and state authorities have boosted resources to better help migrants adapt to life in Germany, even for those who have been convicted of a crime.

Bavaria's regional parliament has allocated €170,000 ($210,000) for German language assistance and integration programs in its 2017-2018 budget, Rebekka Übler, deputy spokesperson of the Bavarian Justice Ministry, told DW.

Read more: Only better integration will reduce migrant crime rate: study

"A total of 260 new jobs have been created at the Justice Ministry, including 40 posts for the general prison service and 10 posts for psychologists in the prison system, particularly to tackle the refugee crisis," Übler said, referring to a supplementary budget for 2016.

Challenges remain

Baier believes there are further challenges that need to be addressed. "Another [challenge] is that the prisoners may be expelled after the sentence has ended, which may reduce their willingness to participate in rehabilitation measures," Baier said.

Read more: EU proposes visa restrictions on countries refusing to take back illegal migrants

According to the five justice ministries, all prisoners receive equal treatment and care. They are also provided with legal aid, medical and psychological support, school counseling and addiction recovery treatment, Klabunde told DW.

But inmates have to choose whether to pursue those opportunities. That can be a tough choice if faced with the possibility of deportation after their sentence. Either way, these German states are providing the services to better prepare them for reentry into society.

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