From fine to prison

By Camille FratiLex KlerenMisch Pautsch Switch to French for original article

The legislation in Luxembourg is much more forgiving than the German one, but the non-payment of a fine can lead to a custodial sentence.

Astonished articles regularly appear in France and Belgium about a German custom that seems surprising: if a person liable to prosecution fails to pay a fine imposed by the police or the courts, he or she is imprisoned to serve an "alternative sentence to deprivation of liberty" (subsidiary imprisonment or "Ersatzhaftstrafe" in German). This is what happened again last March to a French man in his seventies. This penalty is not reserved for foreigners who have accumulated unpaid fines and are stopped on a German road.

In Germany, travelling by bus without a ticket, shoplifting or driving without a licence can result in several months' imprisonment if the offender refuses or is unable to pay the fine. A peculiar system inherited from the Nazi era and also applied in Switzerland: sentences of 1, 20 or 60 "day fines" can actually send people to prison for the same number of days. According to figures put forward by the Greens in Germany, a third of prisoners in Germany serve such a sentence, while official figures show that 50,000 people are sent to prison each year for an average of 30 days.

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