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Number of migrants in German prisons at a record high

Migrant inmates in German prisons have skyrocketed, a new survey of the Justice Ministries in in Germany's 16 federal states show.

Published: February 14, 2019, 7:08 am

    In Berlin and Hamburg, more than 50 percent of inmates are migrants, according to the report, which also revealed a surge in the number of jihadists behind bars in the country.

    Regional daily Rheinische Post, reported the data revealing that the spike in migrant inmates began in 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel abandoned the legal framework governing border controls.

    Without exception, all federal states reported a “very strong increase” of foreign and stateless prisoners in the last three to five years. According to the daily, a nationwide total is difficult to calculate because of differences in the way federal states compile data.

    Since 2016, western federal states have noted an increas in the proportion of foreign-born prisoners form 51 percent to 61 percent in Hamburg; form 43 percent to 51 percent in Berlin; to 44 percent from 48 percent in Baden-Württemberg; from 35 percent 41 percent in Bremen

    In North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, similar increases were recorded. In Hesse, the proportion increased only slightly, but in Bavaria, the proportion rose from 31 percent to 45 percent since 2012.

    Eastern federal states also recorded a rise. In Saxony, the number of foreign prisoners has more than doubled since 2016 and in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania some 160 foreign inmates from 66 different countries were listed in the prison system.

    Not surprisingly, an increase in the number of Muslims in German prisons were also noted, revealing a significantly higher proportion than their share of the total population according to data collected from regional justice ministries.

    Muslims number around six million, which is 7 percent of Germany’s overall population of 82 million, while 20 percent of the 65 000 inmates in the German prison system are Muslim.

    Of the inmates in Bremen, 29 percent are Muslim; 28 percent in Hamburg; 27 percent in Hesse, but in some prisons in the state, 40 percent of all inmates attend Islamic prayers. In Baden-Württemberg it is 26 percent; in North Rhine-Westphalia, 21 percent and in Berlin it is 20 percent.

    At least 300 hardcore jihadists are currently in the German prison system with another 350 that have pending warrants for their arrests. Jihadist prsioners are kept mainly in Hesse, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin in separate prison facilities.

    In Hesse, the number of jihadists has more than tripled since 2013, while in Baden-Württemberg, it has more than doubled since 2016. “The number of prisoners who have become conspicuous because of their Islamist sentiment has risen sharply in the past two years,” said Guido Wolf, the Minister of Justice for Baden-Württemberg.

    “This presents new challenges for our prison officials, who are already exposed to great burdens. We are doing everything we can to detect signs of Islamist radicalization at an early stage and resolutely to oppose it.”

    The risk of radicalization remains a concern, according to Husamuddin Meyer, a German convert to Sufi Islam who now works as a cleric in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). He urged the government to appoint more imams however, to “counteract radicalization”.

    Berliner Morgenpost reported that a growing number of conflicts between German prison officers and migrants have arisen due to language barriers. “The need for language courses and interpreting services is rising, as is competence in dealing with other cultures,” said Dieter Lauinger, the Minister of Justice for Thuringia.

    The GG/BO prisoners’ union [Gefangenen-Gewerkschaft / Bundesweite Organisation] has called for prison managers to hire interpreters, but the cost of such a service is often prohibitive.

    German authorities have also reported an increase in inmate attacks on prison staff. The Prison Staff Union [Bund der Strafvollzugsbediensteten Deutschlands, BSBD] tallied 550 such “special occurrences” in 2017. In North Rhine-Westphalia, the number of assaults on prison staff have more than doubled since 2016.

    “The numbers are a reflection of our society,” said Peter Brock, chairman of the BSBD union. “Insults, threats and attacks are part of everyday life.”

    But the prison system urgently needs more funding. A least three billion euros are needed to rehabilitate ailing institutions just in NRW. At least 500 new workers are needed just to ease staff shortages.

    NRW prison staff have logged more than 500 000 hours of overtime during 2018, according to an internal judiciary report leaked to the Rheinische Post, and tease overcrowding, more than 500 prisoners recently were released on a “Christmas amnesty”.

    NRW once had 114 prison imams, but the number has dwindled to 25 after German authorities carried out security checks on prison imams and discovered that 97 imams were Turkish civil servants whose salaries were paid for by the Turkish government.

    During the investigation Turkey flatly refused to allow German officials to interview the imams. “The requirement that these employees should undergo a renewed security check is inappropriate and wrong,” the Turkish consulate claimed.

    NRW Minister of Justice Peter Biesenbach responded: “The medium-term goal must be to organise religious and pastoral care independent of the Turkish state.”

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