In an open letter to the city state’s justice minister Thomas Heilmann, prisoners from the jails in Tegel, Moabit and Charlottenburg called for the double occupancy of cells to end, and for those inside for non payment of fines to be moved out of high-security units.
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper reported on Wednesday that the letter, signed by various prisoner councils and the organisers of the Tegel prison newspaper, was headed, “Senator Heilmann – don’t let the Berlin prisons land in the gutter!”
The paper said a major criticism from the prisoners was that the social service was so stretched that each social worker was responsible for the welfare and rehabilitation of up to 60 prisoners.
Heilmann’s department said they would take a look at the complaints, while a spokeswoman told the Berliner Zeitung that the double-occupancy of cells had already been reversed, as the overcrowding situation had abated. That had only been a measure undertaken to prepare for the closure of another unit in the city.
The Tagesspiegel newspaper said the justice department had also said that the social services were well-staffed compared with other regions in the country.
A report by the National Agency for the Prevention of Torture which inspects prisons and other places where people are deprived of their liberty, criticised the state of many prisons in the capital in a report published in April.
Although there was no sign of torture, the agency said some areas were disgustingly unhygienic, describing foam mattresses as dirty and covered in dead insects. These hygiene problems were so bad they could be considered as compromising human dignity, the report said.
Prisoners who were under special observation were watched via cameras as they went to the toilet, which the agency said was unacceptable, calling for toilet areas to be pixillated on video. Cells were often criticised as too small or having too many people kept in them. Many had insufficient daylight and fresh air.
The agency was established to examine the conditions under which people are locked up, as part of the United Nations Convention against Torture.