Young people are becoming more and more violent, foreigners are more likely to be criminals, sexual murders of children are increasing – and “lifelong” people are out anyway after 15 years at the latest. These are some of the so-called facts that are often used to underpin the call for more hardship against criminals. Your shortcoming: you just don’t agree.

On easy-to-understand 120 pages, criminologist Jorg Kinzig, a university professor in Tubingen, refutes cliche after cliche with the long-suffering of a tutor: No, in a long-term comparison youth violence has decreased, not increased. No, the sex murders dropped below fifteen a year – by the mid-90s it was 40.

And for life? Ends on average after 19 years, 13 percent sit even more than 25 years. The senior prisoner had spent half a century behind bars.


Kinzig’s booklet is an attempt to return the irrationally – or one should say: stoked – debates about crime and punishment to the scientific base. There are popular keywords like “warning gun arrest” (probably ineffective) or “lowering the age of punishment” (rather counterproductive).

Or a few interesting numbers to make the misconception that a tough justice system will make the world safer. In Germany there are approximately 77 people in prison per 100,000 inhabitants; in the United States, this “prisoner rate” is a staggering 650 – but one has never heard of an American security advance. Some may be surprised to find a reference to the people in preventive detention, who are generally considered the worst of the worst.

When a number of them had to be released in 2011 following a judgment by the European Court of Human Rights, the relapse rate was extremely low. Kinzig assumes that only one in five detainees is dangerous. But because preventive detention is only legitimized by persistent danger, this means that four out of five sit for no reason.

State punishment is, therefore, a delicate business that requires a high degree of rationality – especially for the safety of potential victims. That is why Kinzig’s little information leaflet should always be on hand when anger and fear dominate the debate again after a spectacular crime.

Migrants with a prospect of staying are less likely to commit criminal offenses

And what about foreign crime? It is indeed comparatively high – but also because there are a disproportionate number of young men among the migrants who are at the top of every crime statistic.

Here, too, it is worth taking a closer look: Syrians or Iraqis are less likely to commit criminal offenses – Moroccans, Tunisians or Algerians are significantly more frequent. Those have a prospect of staying, but the North Africans do not.


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