The penal system, an eternal construction site

By Christian Block Switch to German for original article

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The new year is a fitting opportunity to look back on the last twelve months. For the Journal team, this means reflecting on more than 600 published articles and podcasts, as well as at least three times as many conducted interviews. Each team member has selected the contribution that has marked them the most in 2023.

Looking back, it's not easy to say where the idea came from. Suffice it to say that at the beginning of the year, our editorial team thought about how we could provide editorial coverage for the 2023 municipal elections without imitating the familiar and necessary, but also unoriginal, formats used for election-related events.

This resulted in an article on the practice of disenfranchisement, at the provisional end of a series of articles on the prison system. A topic that receives little media attention, both specifically and generally (the prison system as a whole), and therefore also little political attention. In the opinion of the author of these lines, the poaching in the field of justice, which was graciously tolerated by colleague Camille Frati, brought to light some new, or at least remarkable, findings.

For example, the automatic and lifelong loss of the right to vote for prison sentences of more than ten years, without differentiation between active suffrage (the right to vote) and passive suffrage (the right to stand as a candidate in an election), proved to be a not unproblematic characteristic of the Grand Duchy in international comparison (with restrictions, as explained in the full article). The question arises as to whether the provisions of the Luxembourg Criminal Code are really in the spirit of the European Court of Human Rights, which has called for the "principle of proportionality" as a core requirement for restrictions on fundamental rights. The non-automatic rehabilitation of a person after their release is also questionable in the spirit of the 2018 penal reform and the primacy of social rehabilitation declared by it.

"The vision of social reintegration […] is torpedoed several times over by the deprivation of liberty and its consequences."

For the deprivation of voting rights is one of many examples of the gaping wound between the (supposed?) political claim and reality: the vision of social reintegration, the wishful thinking of reformed criminals who find their way back to the right path, is torpedoed several times over by the deprivation of liberty and its consequences – loss of housing, impaired contact with family, the low pay for prison work without payments into the pension fund, possible contact with drugs in prison, lack of prospects on release from prison. In the words of the chairman of the association eran, eraus an elo?: "Convicts are pushed to the margins of society even after a prison sentence […], but we would like everyone to be resocialised. I see a serious contradiction in that."

Against this backdrop, the prison system will continue to provide plenty of material to write about in the future. In its coalition agreement, the new government has formulated a few good-sounding, albeit non-binding ideas. But paper never refused ink, as we all know. In the prison system anyway.