German upper house passes preventive detention reform | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.12.2010
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German upper house passes preventive detention reform

The German upper house of parliament passed a long-disputed reform on preventive detention Friday, limiting the punishment to serious crimes. However, the opposition and lawyers have criticized the new regulation.

A man behind bars

Preventive detention will be limited to serious crimes

The upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, on Friday approved limiting preventive detention to serious crimes and abolished the application of the punishment to convicts having already completed their prison term. Prisoners released under the new regulations despite concern by the authorities, could be forced to wear electronic tags.

The reform became necessary after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Germany's use of preventive detention in December 2009, saying it was tantamount to post facto punishment. Until then, German courts could rule to keep violent and repeat offenders detained for an indefinite period of time, even after they had served their sentence. After the ECHR ruling, several dangerous inmates had to be released from German prisons.

Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

New law will bring "more security", Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said

German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the new regulations would mean "more security". However, the opposition Social Democrats criticized the fact that first-time offenders could now be facing preventive detention as well.

Number of preventive detainees might rise significantly

"There is a reason to fear that the number of preventive detainees will rise significantly," Berlin's Justice Minister Gisela von der Aue said.

Brandenburg's Justice Minister Volkmar Schoeneburg from the Left party said preventive detention could now be implemented more than is necessary, and could still be imposed up until the very last day of the sentence. He also warned inmates could refrain from participating in therapy sessions for fear of revealing information that leads to preventive detention.

According to the German Bar Association, the national parliament should not have been allowed to pass the law. "It is the federal states' responsibility to decide on detention," Dr. Stefan Koenig from the German Bar Association told Deutsche Welle. He also dismissed methods used to keep dangerous inmates imprisoned.

Imprisonment instead of psychiatry

"Now they are called 'sick' so that they can be held in custody. If they had been mentally ill, they would have been taken to a psychiatric ward and not to prison in the first place," he said.

"This decision will definitely be appealed against, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg."

Although the new regulations on preventive detention removed arson and burglary from the list, a criminal arrested for drug crimes can still be kept in prison for an indefinite amount of time. According to Koenig, preventive detention should be limited to severe crimes such as homicide, assault and sex crimes.

The German police union said the federal states now had to make sure facilities are established where those "mentally disordered" criminals could be placed.

Author: Sarah Steffen (epd, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner

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