Federal Constitutional Court
Karlsruhe is examining prisoner remuneration below the minimum wage level
Working prisoners earn less than 20 euros a day, many even significantly less. Is it a way to learn that righteous living is worthwhile? The Federal Constitutional Court is now questioning this.
More than two decades after its last fundamental judgment on prisoner remuneration, the Federal Constitutional Court is examining whether work in prison is still adequately paid today.
At the start of the hearing on Wednesday, the lawyer for a complaining prisoner said that the statutory minimum wage should rise to twelve euros an hour this year – a prisoner would have to work a whole day for this. Representatives of the countries responsible for the penal system defended the bad pay in Karlsruhe. Prison work is not economical.
Two victims from Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia complained, neither of whom took part in the hearing. One of the men, who is serving a life sentence, did not receive a permit from Straubing Prison, according to his attorneys. In a statement that they read for him, he said he was rightly ordered to pay around 34,000 euros in court costs because of the criminal proceedings. With what he earns, he can never pay off his debts. “That’s unfair.”
A representative of the Bavarian Ministry of Justice said there was no room for increases, citing the low productivity of prison labor. Many prisoners have no school qualifications or training. With a proportion of foreigners of around 45 percent, the language barriers are great. In addition, there are often addiction problems or mental illnesses among the prisoners. A colleague from the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Justice added that the costs for a single day of imprisonment would currently be just under 170 euros.
In 1998, the constitutional court had already criticized the remuneration. At that time, five percent of the average wage was paid – the benchmark is always all those with statutory pension insurance. In 2002, the judges judged a nationwide increase to nine percent to be just constitutional.
Hourly wage under 2.30 euros
The states are now responsible. However, nothing has changed in terms of remuneration – although Karlsruhe had called for a “constant check” at the time. Deputy Court President Doris König said that hourly wages are currently between EUR 1.37 and EUR 2.30, depending on performance and type of work. That amounts to just under 11 to 18.40 euros a day, with only a few reaching the highest level.
In the twelve federal states in which there is an obligation to work, the prisoners can also work out days off. These can also be saved for an earlier dismissal. In addition, a kind of vacation is planned. According to the prisoner’s lawyers, however, the value of these days for those affected is limited.
Manuel Matzke from the prisoner union / nationwide organization (GG/BO), who used to be in prison himself, demanded remuneration based on the minimum wage. The prisoners wanted to be paid properly and not exploited, he said. He accused external companies of having “discovered the prisons as an economic zone for themselves”, with companies and the judiciary working hand in hand here. “It’s just that both sides benefit from it.”
A second day of negotiations is scheduled for Thursday. The verdict will not be announced for a few months. (Az. 2 BvR 166/16 and others)