Most people in German prisons take their own lives while in custody. The Ministry of Justice wants to prevent this with intelligent video surveillance.
In 2019, 144 people died in German prisons, and by 2021 the figure had risen to 182. A similar increase can be seen in the suicides included in the figures: These rose from 77 to 92 cases. This is revealed in the federal government’s response to a parliamentary question submitted annually by the left-wing parliamentary group.
Most suicides in the three Corona years occurred in pre-trial detention (45 percent), according to the answer. In second place were suicides during a prison sentence (39 percent). There were 29 cases involving people serving a substitute prison sentence (10 percent).
In total, well over 3,000 people died in German prisons between 1998 and 2021, half of whom were suicides. In 2017, this number peaked at 82.
Data on deaths in custody are recorded in the annual prison statistics; information on this comes from the Länder. According to the Federal Ministry of Justice, these are only available up to the reporting year 2021. However, similar statistics are kept by the Criminological Service in Saxony, from where the drastic increase in the suicide rate is confirmed. For the year 2022, the nationwide count from Saxony records 79 suicides.
The statistics from Saxony include other information about the deceased, including age, nationality or length of incarceration before the suicide. According to the report, up to 50 percent of the dead had no German citizenship. Most of them belonged to the 24 to 40 age group.
An increase in the number of suicides in Germany last year was also reported by the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture. A report by the office states that more and more prisoners are expressing such thoughts. In addition, untreated mental disorders and illnesses are being diagnosed more and more frequently. Both factors then more often lead to placement in a “specially secured detention room,” the report said.
However, the Ministry of Justice writes in its answer to the question that the occurrence of diseases requiring treatment “for persons in its care” is unavoidable. At the same time, the federal government rejects any responsibility: the execution of custodial sentences and measures is one of the tasks of the states; the federal government does not even have a supervisory function here.
As an “instrument of suicide prevention,” the Justice Ministry is currently testing an application for the automated analysis of images from video surveillance. It is supposed to detect situations that point to a suicide plot. However, the technology is not yet running reliably, so the progress of the project is questionable, the response says. The reason given is that the system has not yet been adequately fed with data on suicides.
Published in German in „nd“.