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CRIME

Festive prisons release 1,000 inmates

Over 1,000 prisoners will be let out early in time to spend Christmas at home as part of a traditional seasonal amnesty, according to media reports over the weekend.

Festive prisons release 1,000 inmates
Photo: DPA

Regional governments can choose to pardon prisoners whose sentences are due to finish over the winter. The idea is to lift the emotional burdern on prisons over the holidays, which a Justice Ministry spokewoman said can be a “particularly difficult” time.

Prison chaplain Friedemann Preuß said the annual gesture was an act of magnanimity. “There’s a lot of suffering,” he said. Many prisoners spend the time leading up to Christmas wishing for a perfect family, he added. “It depresses the mood, the spirit.”

In order to qualify, prisoners must have a proven track record of good behaviour and not currently be the subject of any criminal investigations.

Further criteria for early release include not having served time for violent crimes, terrorist activity, theft or drug offences, wrote the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper on Sunday.

However, prisoners must also agree to going home early. Often they refuse the offer because they are reluctant to be released for the festive season, especially when no relatives or loved-ones are waiting for them, said a spokeswoman from Rhineland-Palatinate Justice Ministry.

This year, North Rhine-Westphalia has released the highest number of prisoners and has set 710 people free since November 7. In second place is Hesse, where between 150 and 200 inmates have been let out early to celebrate Christmas.

Only Saxony and Bavaria have refused to keep the generous tradition, arguing that it is not fair on the other prisoners.

“A Christmas amnesty arbitrarily favours prisoners whose sentence happens to end around Christmas time,” said Beate Merk, Baviarian Justice Minister from the Conservative Christian Socialist Union (CSU). Early release had nothing to do with the time of year, added Merk, a position the regional opposition have described as heartless.

Those remaining behind bars over Christmas in Germany typically mark the occasion with church services, skat tournaments or barbecues. One prison, the JVA Castrop-Rauxel near Dortmund in west Germany, even hosts a Christmas market.

DAPD/The Local/jlb

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CRIME

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at a secondary school in northern Germany on Thursday, badly injuring a female member of staff before being arrested, police said.

One injured in school shooting in Bremerhaven

The incident happened at the Lloyd Gymnasium school in the centre of Bremerhaven, a city on Germany’s North Sea coast, on Thursday morning. 

“The armed person has been arrested and is in police custody,” police said in a statement. The injured woman was not a pupil, police said.

They said the suspect had entered the school building and fired at a female member of staff, who was “seriously injured”.

The alarm was quickly raised and police said they detained the suspect at a nearby location soon after and had seized his weapon at the scene.

The injured woman is being treated in hospital.

A video circulating on social media and German news sites appeared to capture the moment the gunman was arrested.

A man dressed in black is seen lying face down on a street corner, with a weapon next to him, before being handcuffed by officers.

But there was no immediate confirmation of reports the alleged weapon was a crossbow.

Bremerhaven police tweeted in the morning that a large deployment was under way in the city centre and asked residents to avoid the Mayor-Martin-Donandt square and surrounding streets, in the vicinity of the Lloyd secondary school.

Local news site Nord24 said a school pupil had heard shots being fired and called the police. Pupils barricaded themselves in their classrooms.

Police launched a large-scale operation and cordoned off the area around the school while they carried out inquiries. 

By mid-afternoon, police said special forces had completed their search and the last people had left the building.

Authorities set up a phone hotline for concerned parents. Many parents had gathered in front of the school after being alerted by their children.

Pupils and staff are receiving psychological counselling.

Local media said only around 200 people were on the school grounds, fewer than normal because of exam times.

In a separate incident on Thursday, police in the eastern city of Leipzig said they had detained a 21-year-old student still at secondary school after being tipped off by Snapchat that he had posted pictures of himself with a gun and made unspecified threats.

The US social media platform alerted German authorities, prompting Leipzig police to take action.

 A police spokesman said that the 21-year-old did not pose a real threat, however, and only possessed an airsoft gun, a replica firearm that uses non-lethal, usually plastic, pellets.

‘Strict gun laws’

School shootings are relatively rare in Germany, a country with some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. But a recent spate has rattled the population.

Last week, investigators in Germany’s city of Essen said they foiled a school bomb assault, as they arrested a 16-year-old who is suspected to have been planning a “Nazi terror attack”.

Police in Essen stormed the teen’s room overnight, taking him into custody and uncovering 16 “pipe bombs”, as well as anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim material.

In January, an 18-year-old student opened fire in a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany, killing a young woman and
injuring three others before fleeing the scene and turning the weapon on himself.

In 2009, a former pupil killed nine students, three teachers and three passers-by in a school shooting at Winnenden, in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The gunman then killed himself.

In 2002, a 19-year-old former student, apparently in revenge for having been expelled, shot dead 16 people including 12 teachers and two students at a school in the central German city of Erfurt. He too then killed himself.

The Winnenden and Erfurt massacres were carried out with legal weapons and spurred Germany to tighten gun laws.

The country currently requires anyone under 25 to pass a psychiatric exam before applying for a gun licence.

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