This Manifesto was published in German for a German audience in November 2019. It goes back to a manifesto publshed by Livio Ferrari and Massimo Pavarini (No Prison Manifesto (http://noprison.eu; in seven languages). We felt, however, that the criminal justice systems are different and that there should be many manifestos adapted to the respective local condition. Nonetheless, I drafted a rough translation into English as an information for friends, who do not read German. It was also used, in January 2020, as teaching material in a class of the IISL Onati Masters Program (which I taught together with Gema Varona Martinez). For a look at the German original go to the German part of this website.
Manifesto for the abolition of penitentiaries and other prisons
(from a German perspectice)
- Abolitionism is the radical rejection of institutions deemed inhuman
An abolitionist stance finds its expression in the demand to do away with institutions, which turn human beings into enslaved, despicable, worthless creatures. Examples were and are, the demand to abolish slavery, torture, or the death penalty. The more or less complete elimination of the institutions mentioned has encouraged us to include one more institution in this abolitionist program. The present manifesto concentrates on the deprivation of liberty as a punishment. However, it also calls punishments as such into question.
- Penitentiaries should be abolished
The placement of people in prisons as a punishment is both unnecessary and inhuman. The demand to abolish prisons can therefore be heard increasingly also in the German-speaking world. Among the most important reasons for this demand are the following:
- the placement in penitentiaries violates elementary human rights. It entails forced labour, forced celibacy, forced poverty et cetera;
- in addition penitentiaries are counterproductive, in that they contribute to labeling the imprisoned persons as dangerous, useless, not trustworthy et cetera;
- imprisonment has undesirable side effects (co-punishment of others, especially children and partners)
- deprivation of liberty also aggravates the living conditions, into which prisoners are released (e.g. difficulty to find employment, accomodation; general social declassation).
- the existence of penitentiaries nurtures the illusion that through imprisonment criminality can be reduced and the solution of social problems can be achieved.
- Their reduction should be initiated right now
The abolition of penitentiaries is a long-term project, but their reduction should be started right now. The following types of prison sentences and forms of imprisonment can serve as a starting point:
– imprisonment for failure to pay a fine should be abolished as soon as possible and without a substitute punishment; fines can be enforced exclusively by means of private law;
– imprisonment as a punishment should be outlawed for juveniles; it can be replaced by measures of youth welfare;
– life-time imprisonment should be recognized as an inhuman measure and abolished (and replaced by determinate sentences);
-closed prison regimes should, as a rule, be replaced by open ones;
– conditions in the remaining types of closed prison institutions should be made to „approximate as closely as possible the positive aspects of life in the community“ (European Prison Rules Nr. 5), e.g. residential buildings rather than cell blocks.
- Other types of incarceration should also be avoided
Deprivation of liberty should be avoided as much as possible also for other goals than for punishment. Arguments as those against penitentiaries are usually also valid against other forms of deprivation of liberty. In particular, we should avoid that penitentiaries continue to exist under other names („forensic institutions“, „security internment“, „administrative detention“ et cetera). We should specifically demand
– the abolition of immigration detention;
– the avoidance of pre-trial detention as much as possible (in favour of social pledges et cetera);
– the introduction of a legal presumption of non-dangerousness to avoid „precrime“ imprisonment.
- Alternatives for dealing with „crime“ are available
The concept of „crime“ covers highly different types of socially unwanted behavior. The reaction to them has to take account of these differences and should not overlook , that we are dealing with, both legislatively and judicially, with selective processes of criminalization. In some cases, a regulation completetly outside the criminal law is called for (e.g. for the complete field of drug offences, for shoplifting and for fare evasion). But even in cases, in which a prison sentence is still deemed necessary, there should always be the possibility to suspend it in favour of more meaningsful alternatives, e.g.:
– job placement services instead of punishment
– job training instead of punishment
– assisted living instead of punishment
– probation supervision instead of punishment
– therapy instead of punishment
– insurance instead of punishment
– reconciliation instead of punishment
– reparation instead of punishment.
- Punishment is not necessary, incarceration even less so
Prisons are not necessary to deal with the needs of victims and/or offenders. Eventually, alternatives to criminal justice like restorative justice, transformative justice et cetera should be developed.
1 This is an English translation of a manifesto published 2019 in German on the Wepage www.strafvollzugsarchive.de.
Our model was the manifesto published by Livio Ferrari/Massimo Pavarini: No Prison Manifesto (http://noprison.eu; in seven languages). The present manifesto is based on an article entitled „No Penitentiaries“, published by Johannes Feest und Sebastian Scheerer in the collection No Prison, edited by Massimo Pavarini/Livio Ferrari, Capel Devi 2018,
It was refined by several discussions with likeminded friends. Final editing: Johannes Feest.
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The above manifesto was drafted by a group comprising sociologists (Sebastian Scheerer; Klaus Roggenthin, Henning Schmidt-Semisch); criminologists (Christine Graebsch, Gaby Temme), lawyers (Gundel Berger, Helmut Pollähne; Sven-Uwe Burkhardt), a politologist (Christian Hergesell) an educationist (Elke Bahl) and a former prison governor (Thomas Galli). Among the 70 co-signers are practitioners and theoretitions (including the doyen of German criminology, Prof. Fritz Sack).