Punitivity in Germany in Comparison With Other European Regions

Helmut Kury, Max-Planck-Institute

Problems of increasing punitivity have been increasingly discussed in Europe. I will present longitudinal data regarding Germany in comparison with other European countries. The countries of the former Soviet Union showed at first an increasing official (registered) crime rate, a decreasing rate of imprisonment for a few years, and then increasing levels of fear of crime, punitivity, and an increasing level of imprisonment.

The population of the former Soviet Union showed after the opening of the borders strong interest in crime and crime escalation, especially in the media, which could report the topic freely. The crime rate increased strongly, but from a rather low level in comparison with western countries. Even today the official crime rates of these eastern countries is much lower than those of most western countries. Victim surveys, however, show that the actual crime rate could well be similar in both the East and the West. this means that the crime rate in these eastern countries has grown considerably in the last decade. The usual reaction to this development is a demand for harsh punishment, and politicians have responded accordingly. I will examine this process in Germany and in the development of German penal law. In western countries i.e., Germany, and England and Wales, a vigorous discussion in the 1990s about sex offences, especially child sexual abuse. Several cases were examined in the media very intensively. This concern was an important factor in the demand for harsher punishment for sex offender and violent offenders. And in England and Wales the law was affected in a similar manner.

I will review the several different international surveys regarding the attitudes toward the punishment in different European countries and discuss these results as reflecting the evolution of crime and such social variables as income and unemployment. A contrast will be drawn between eastern and western European countries.

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Updated 05/20/2006