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17 Years In Solitary Confinement

Thomas Meyer-Falk | 25.07.2012 13:54 | World

Since the end of the 70s Mr. Peter WEGENER has been in prison; he never killed anybody, but he had committed a few robberies and later tried to escape from prison three times.

Escape attempt in 1995

In 1995 he and a comrade, Mr. Finneisen, took a guard of the prison hostage in Celle (Lower Saxony/Germany) and escaped from the jail. Both were captured two days later, and since that day both had been kept in solitary confinement. Mr. Finneisen was released from prison in 2011, after he had finished his sentence.

What does solitary confinement mean?

The German penal code allows the warden (i.e. prison director) to keep someone in isolation for 'security reasons', as long as the director believes that an inmate could be a threat to the prison's safety. After a period of three months a year the director has to obtain the permission of the Ministry of Justice. For the inmate this means that (s)he is separated from all other inmates (contact with other inmates is only by mail/letters), low personal property in the cell (in Peter's prison it means for example: the combined length of the spines of his personal books can not be more than 50cm, no personal clothes, no TV nor radio, no type writer, nothing which can be “dangerous”). Only one hour each day in the prison yard (alone, of course), a maximum of one or two hour visits each month (behind glass and observed by the officers). Strip searching before leaving the cell or the isolation-unit, and before entering the cell, after having a shower, going to the prison yard or on a visit. Day by day, month by month, year by year, decade by decade.

The situation of Mr. Peter Wegener

So Peter is living under these inhuman and degrading conditions for more than 17 years now. The guard wasn't injured in 1995, it was a psychological trauma for him, of course, but is this a justification to separate, to isolate a person for such a long time? The administration confirm that they haven't had any fundamental problems with him in the last decade, but because he refused to speak with their psychiatrist, they have said that it is his fault that they can not end the isolation of Mr. Wegener.

What does “Speaking with a psychiatrist” mean?

The Ministry of Justice asked Professor KROBER (chief of forensic psychiatry in Berlin) in 2010 to give expert advice about the “dangerousness” of Mr. Wegener, but Peter did not want to accept this expert. Professor Krober is well known for his conservative views. So this expert gave his advice, based only on reading the files. He hasn't spoken with anyone. His report was devastating for Peter, because as long as he refuses to speak with the expert, Mr. Krober wrote, that this underlines the “dangerousness” of the inmate. The first condition for the long, long journey back into the prison population is that Mr. Wegener agrees to speak with the prison psychologist, to give them a chance to get to know him.

One year later, in 2011, Peter spoke with another psychiatrist, a doctor that was hired by the courts to see if it is possible to impose such a sentence. This expert wrote the opposite to what the Professor from Berlin had written, and pleaded for an immediate transfer from the isolation unit into the prison population; and after this and social-therapy it would be possible to release him.

Reaction of the prison to this expert advice?

In April 2012 the responsible chief of the isolation unit, Mr. FARBOWSKI wrote to Peter, saying that the prison did not accept the new expert advice, because they trusted in the expert advice of Professor KROBER, and the letter closed with the words, “I am sorry, that I can't give you a better decision. Yours sincerely, Mr. Farbowski”. To Peter this sounded cynical and incomprehensible.

And then?

At the moment Peter is appealing to the courts against his conditions. His argument is, that his conditions are worse and violates Article 3 of the Human Rights convention (which forbids torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment), so that it is not admissible to keep him in prison any longer. Peter wasn't a saint outside nor inside of prison, but to 'cement' someone for more than 17 years in an isolation unit, that is inhuman.

What can I do to help Peter?

First you can send a politely worded e-mail to the director of the prison, where Peter is held, and ask for his immediate transfer out of the isolation unit:

Write to the Minister of Justice:

Send a postcard to Peter to show your support:

c/o JVA
Schnedebruch 8
D-31319 Sehnde


Thomas Meyer-Falk – July 2012
c/o JVA-Z. 3113
Schoenbornstr. 32
SD-76646 Bruchsal

Thomas Meyer-Falk
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  1. Other information here — thomas