Poverty Crimes: Going to Jail for Driving Without a Ticket


Status: 05/18/2022 05:00 AM

If you are caught several times in Germany without a ticket, you can expect a prison sentence. Each year tens of thousands of people are convicted and thousands imprisoned, according to a nationwide survey NDR And BR Indicates.

By Melanie Marks (Brazil), Sophia Eckert (NDR) and Marcus Grill (NDR)

In fact, he is still in prison. Peter M was due to serve a good eight months because he was caught several times driving without a valid ticket. This is a crime in Germany, described in paragraph 265a: anyone who cheats on a means of transport can be punished with up to one year in prison, as stated in the document. Initiative bought the 42-year-old for free after six months in exchange for a fine of 1,225 euros.

Thousands of people in Germany felt the same way as M. in 2019, 2020 and 2021. According to research NDR and des BR– political magazine Controversial Query between the ministries of justice in the federal states. People were either sentenced to prison outright – or paid a fine they were unable to pay. Instead, they had to go to jail because of it.

A large number of unreported cases

Not all federal states collect the exact number of people in custody equally, which is why there is still an unreported number. Convictions for “cheating services” are recorded equally: in 2019 more than 46 thousand people were convicted, and in Corona 2020, when fewer trains were used, there were almost 40 thousand.

Above all, the regional differences are significant. Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia stand out with about 300 prisoners based on paragraph 265a, followed by Saxony. While the paragraph also covers other offenses, such as overtaking an automatic turnstile in a swimming pool, some responses from justice ministries state that the majority of people are often in custody for driving without a valid ticket.

poverty crime

Ten years ago, Peter M’s life spiraled out of control after kidney disease: he had to undergo dialysis several times a week, couldn’t find a job, slipped into depression and became homeless over and over again over the years. In order to get to dialysis or to emergency shelters, he often takes the S-Bahn in Munich, often without a ticket he can’t afford. In 2018, M. was arrested ten times, each time on a short trip. The judge sentenced him to a total fine of 4,050 euros, which he, too, was unable to pay. He is going to prison.

M.’s case is a typical case, say criminologists. Driving without a valid ticket is a crime of poverty. In principle, all convicts have the opportunity to raise the fine if they cannot pay it. To this end, federal states have created so-called “detention avoidance programs” that are intended to help prevent people from going to prison for minor sentences.

But often, according to an analysis by the North Rhine-Westphalia Criminology Service, people who have been sentenced to drive without a ticket are simply “poor, sick, socially excluded, not dangerous in a criminal sense” – and many are unable to work easily. In addition to searching BR And NDRThat in some places there is not enough space for convicts to serve their sentences.

Paragraph 265a under examination

At the beginning of the legislative period, the Traffic Lights Coalition announced the amendment of the controversial paragraph. From the Federal Ministry of Justice, Section 265(a) is said to be currently under consideration. The controversy revolves around whether the rating for driving without a valid ticket can be reduced to an administrative offence. Then people would not have criminal records, for example, and the fines would be much lower. However: anyone who does not pay the fine in the event of an administrative offense must also be in custody – in which case this does not replace the fine.

The case of Peter M. The extent of prison sentences in particular can derail people: says the 42-year-old, who has repeatedly had to serve months due to ticket debt. He has a feeling he won’t get a “green bough” for years. His health insurance may have even covered travel expenses, “but I just didn’t know who to ask for,” he says. “I was just overwhelmed.”

The Prison Officers’ Association is also critical: President Renee Mueller points out that people who don’t belong in prisons are put in prisons. One of them is already overburdened and cannot facilitate resettlement in such a short time. As the head of Frankenthal Prison, Gundi Bassler, criticizes: “If someone is serving an alternative prison sentence, a lot will fall apart outside.” Some may lose their jobs, home, and social environment.

Millions of taxpayer costs

A day in prison costs the taxpayer between 126 and 218 euros, according to a recent small question left to the federal government. According to Arne Simsrot, this is very costly for taxpayers, especially when it comes to petty crimes. Together with fellow activists, he founded the Freedom Fund initiative. With the help of donations, fines of about 400 prisoners can now be paid. He explains that this saved the state nearly 4.3 million euros.

Simsrot hopes to quickly revise Section 265a. At the request of BR And NDR Many carriers do not want to comment. It has often been said in the past that if Para 265a is repealed, the gates will open for driving without a valid ticket.

“The paragraph doesn’t help anyone, not the prisoners because they are being punished anyway, not the taxpayers nor the judiciary,” says Samsrot. Incidentally, references to the prisoners in question, whose fines can be paid, are increasingly coming from judicial officials. They will ask the initiative to buy prisoners for free.

Driving without a ticket – more than a thousand people in custody

Melanie Marks, BR/Svea Eckert, NDR, May 18, 2022 6:29 am

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