Most criminals avoiding jail in Germany

New statistics show that 70 percent of convicted criminals in Germany never see the inside of a jail. While appearing excessively lenient, a top criminologist told The Local on Tuesday that decreasing crime rates prove the country's penal system is effective.

Most criminals avoiding jail in Germany
Photo: DPA

Last year 874,700 people were sentenced by German courts for felony or misdemeanour offences – but seven out of 10 were able to “avoid a prison sentence through a successful probationary period,” according to a report released last week by the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis). There were also three percent fewer convictions compared to 2007.

While the figures would seem to paint a picture of a Teutonic justice system gone limp, the director of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony, Dr. Christian Pfeiffer, said keeping criminals out of jail is more successful than the alternative.

“The judges know exactly what they are doing and they’re working towards prevention,” Pfeiffer, who is also the former Lower Saxony justice minister, told The Local. “This isn’t lenient, it’s rational.”

Compared to the example of the draconian American criminal justice system, which Pfeiffer called “catastrophic” and “self-destructive,” Germany works to keep criminals engaged in society.

“In the US there’s a major programme that costs hundreds of millions of dollars each year just to let some 600,000 prisoners out of prison each year,” he said. “They’ve been totally uprooted and have to be reintegrated – we don’t have that.”

Instead, Germany used fines to punish 71 percent of crimes committed in 2008, Destatis found.

“Our fining system is so effective because it’s fair,” Pfeiffer said.

The German fine system is based on daily wages, meaning that criminals are punished for certain crimes by paying a set amount of what they earn.

“It’s proportionate to the profession,” Pfeiffer explained. “For example a person on social welfare has to pay 10 days of his benefits, while a football star pays 10 days of whatever he makes.”

Convicted criminals can also choose to serve the days in jail or work for social programmes if they can’t pay their fines.

According to Pfeiffer, last year’s three percent reduction in crime is nothing compared to the last 20 years.

“The high point was in 1998, but it has gone down drastically since then,” he said, adding that burglaries are down by 50 percent, homicides by 40 percent, and bank robbery more than 75 percent.

“There is nothing to complain about,” he said.

But the trend toward a safer Germany is not due to successes in the criminal justice system alone, another factor is the ageing population.

In August, European Union statisticians found that Germany had the lowest birth rate and highest death rate of all 27 nations.

“The ageing of our population supports inner security,” Pfeiffer said. “Fewer young men and more old men mean less crime.”

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German jailed for life in double police murder

A German man was given a life sentence on Wednesday for shooting dead two police officers to escape being caught for illegal game hunting during a routine traffic check.

German jailed for life in double police murder

The regional court in Kaiserslautern found 39-year-old Andreas Schmitt guilty of the killings in January this year, which sent shockwaves across Germany.

His co-defendant, referred to by the court as Florian V., was found guilty of abetting illegal poaching.

The 33-year-old was in the car with Schmitt when the officers discovered dead game in the boot, investigators said.

“We are all to this day horrified that a supposed routine control could turn into a fatal incident,” Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said in a statement after the verdict.

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

The victims were a 24-year-old woman police officer still in training and her colleague, a 29-year-old man.

The young woman was killed by a single shot to the head, while the man was shot four times, investigators said.

The officers were able to report that they were checking a suspicious vehicle and that shots were being fired before radio contact broke off.

When backup arrived, the woman was already dead and the man fatally injured. The perpetrators had fled the scene.

The crime in the Kusel district of Rhineland-Palatinate state triggered a major manhunt, with police deploying helicopters and sniffer dogs, sealing off roads and warning local residents not to pick up hitchhikers.