Indefinite detention in Germany: letter from Thomas Meyer-Falk
artwork by tiger killhour
Letter from Thomas Meyer-Falk, a comrade who has been imprisoned in Germany since 1996 for bank robbery to fund political struggles.
In 1933 the Nazis passed the Law against Dangerous Habitual Criminals, allowing the courts to indefinitely imprison “habitual criminals” if they consider the person to be dangerous to society: so since 1933 the state can keep people in prison after their regular sentence has finished. In the 50s, the High Court of GDR (East Germany) declared that the law had to be overruled, because it was a “Nazi concept”, but such doubts never existed in West Germany; the Federal Constitutional Court has always accepted PD (Preventative Detention).
However in 2011 the courts declared the conditions in the PD prisons to be a violation of the German constitution. The inmates have finished their sentences, the court said, so their living conditions have to be better than in a regular prison, and the state has to do its best to ensure that any inmate gets a realistic chance for parole as soon as possible, also offering therapy to the inmates.
At the moment we have around 500 PD-detainees in Germany, only two or three of them are female inmates. But there are some nonetheless – the courts imposed the the PD to some women: one who has burnt a supermarket, and one who has sex without a condom, and so on.
I am living in Freiburg’s PD unit. Freiburg is an old town in the south-west of Germany. The prison where I have to stay was built in 2001 for people who were waiting their trial; after the court’s decision in 2011 the state has transferred these inmates elsewhere and renamed this prison “PD-unit”. We don’t live in cells, we live in rooms; the funny thing is: on 31.05.2013 the same room was called “cell”, but on the 01.06.2013 we got the new PD-living-conditions law and it declared the cells into rooms. So we have bars at the window, steel doors, but the cells are now “rooms”. This rhetoric trick is symptomatic of the whole situation. We should get a realistic chance for parole, but in the last few years more inmates have died in prison than were released on parole.
That’s the reason why we call it “House of Death”: in all 16 PD-units in Germany there are mostly old and ill men. In 2011 more that 70 PD detainees were released after a few judgements of the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights). What had happened? The PD-law said that every detainee has to be released after a maximum time in PD of 10 years, but in 1998 the Parliament changed that law into “lifetime”, not only for inmates convicted in the future but also those who had already been sentenced. In 2009 the European Court of Human Rights decided that this law violated Article 5 and 7 of the Human Rights Convention, and also the part of the Convention which forbids the states to apply their laws retrospectively.
So, how many of these inmates, who were called “maximum flight risk for public safety” lapsed back into crime? Only a few: most of them are living without any violation of the criminal law. Why? Because the original prognosis was completely wrong – all these “expert witnesses” who testified that all these inmates were maximum risks, were wrong!
But these “experiments” (we can call it this because dozens of “high risk inmates” were released, most of them without any warning or preparation, and most of them had been long term inmates, kept in prison for decades) have changed nothing in the experts’ minds, or in the minds of the prison staff.
So, most of the inmates in PD-units have to wait only for their death. We have better living conditions now, i.e. a 5kg parcel with food 6 times a year, we can wear our own clothes, the cell has 14m2 (instead of 7m2), we can cook in a kitchen. But in reality we have no realistic chance to get free on parole. Well, the prison staff would contradict this analysis, but that doesn’t mean anything, because they get paid by the state, it’s their job to defend its system.
All PD detainees have finished their regular sentences (i.e. for my own: 16 years & nine months for an attempt bank robbery and for writing letters which “insulted” judges, politicians and public prosecutors) and now they are kept behind bars only for a suspicion. For the insinuation they maybe can do a crime in the future.
Kept in prison maybe for life, only for an insinuation!
Write to Thomas at:
c/o JVA (SV)
D 79104 Freiburg