More barbed wire, fewer social workers

With a confession, the trial against the three alleged murderers of a 20-year-old inmate in Siegburg Prison began on Wednesday at the Bonn Regional Court. The crime had triggered a political debate about violence in prisons.
In the this site interview, Cologne chaplain Achim Halfmann talks about the need for pedagogical support for imprisoned young people. His appeal to the state government: more investment in social work.

Twice a week, they drive 142 kilometers to listen for two hours. "We are an outlet for the anger, fear and worries of the young people in prison," says Achim Halfmann, managing director of Gefahrdetenhilfe Scheideweg in Huckeswagen near Cologne. Volunteers from the Protestant prison ministry have been going behind the high prison walls of the Siegburg correctional facility every week since 1972. Many young people served time here before finding housing, work and a new life at Gefahrdetenhilfe.The killing of a 20-year-old inmate in Siegburg, which has been on trial at the Bonn Regional Court since Wednesday, has shaken but not surprised the association. "Everyone involved in prisons knows that there is violence among those in custody and that sexual offenses also occur," Halfmann emphasized. However, he says he has not seen the situation in Siegburg any more drastic than in the other 16 prisons that Gefahrdetenhilfe regularly visits in North Rhine-Westphalia and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with a total of 300 volunteers.The Siegburg case is a reflection of reality and not just an isolated case, says Halfmann. "What happened in Siegburg happens where young people who come from criminal scenes are fenced together and are not adequately accompanied," Halfmann said.The association has high hopes for a new law on the execution of juvenile sentences, which has been introduced by the Dusseldorf state government. The bill calls for the creation of 750 new detention slots, individual placement for juvenile offenders, more education and training opportunities, and sports and recreational programs in the evenings and on weekends."It would be a great step forward if these points were actually put into practice," Halfmann says. In recent years, he said, the association's contact group work has become increasingly difficult, with guards often locking the young people away before six o'clock in the evening. "Many even spend the whole weekend in their cells.The association is pinning great hopes on a new law on juvenile detention, which the state government in Dusseldorf is working on," he says, adding that educational leisure activities and encounters with people outside prison are enormously important for the resocialization of juveniles. "Creating a bit of free time with people from outside and being in conversation with them is a very important outlet to find some relief," Halfmann explains.According to Halfmann, the possibility of catching up on school-leaving qualifications and training is used far too seldom in juvenile prisons. Only 37 percent of juvenile prisoners in NRW have a secondary school diploma. Less than one percent can provide evidence of vocational training. According to a study, the recidivism rate of released juveniles in NRW is 74 percent."Being on the fringes has become a way of life," Halfmann observes. "I experience the young people increasingly hopelessly."Halfmann welcomes the creation of a new closed juvenile detention center in Wuppertal – even if the Siegburg facility is to be closed for it. The state government is planning a new building with 500 places at a cost of around 70 million euros, in which there will be training facilities, classrooms, workshops, sports facilities and predominantly single cells in residential groups. However, the Greens criticize that only ten positions have been earmarked for social services.Jonk Schnitzius, a prison chaplain in Wuppertal, also notes that the staffing situation in prisons has hardly changed since the Siegburg murder. "The situation is dramatic, but the state of emergency is fixed." For almost two years now, the pastor has been fighting to fill the second vacant Protestant pastor position. He himself, with a 0.75 position, is responsible for the care of 550 prisoners as well as for the training and coordination of volunteer contact groups, including the Gefahrdetenhilfe Scheideweg (Crossroads Assistance for the Vulnerable).The Ministry of Justice has promised a second position, but, Schnitzius says, "no action follows."The state government prefers to invest in security standards rather than in urgently needed social work, the chaplain criticizes. "Relationships create the highest level of security, not barbed wire. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that we can improve the situation with security measures alone."(Sabine Damaschke/epd)

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Christina Cherry
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