Anyone who cannot pay a fine in Baden-Württemberg can also seek advice instead of the impending substitute detention and pay off the amount piece by piece - or work off the sum. According to the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Justice, two programs against so-called substitute prison sentences avoided around 170,000 days of imprisonment for defaulting debtors in 2021 - this corresponds to a total of 465 years.
The "Sweating instead of sitting" project alone saved 160,342 days in prison, around 48,000 more than in the previous year. Due to the direct contact of court assistants with the debtors, at least another 10,000 days were not served, Justice Minister Marion Gentges (CDU) told the dpa.
So-called alternative prison sentences are ordered by the public prosecutor's office if a fine is not paid and cannot be collected. A day's fine corresponds to one day's imprisonment.
However, since November 2020, the country has been offering more help if people are threatened with imprisonment because of unpaid fines. In the project with the unwieldy name "Avoiding substitute prison sentences through outreach social work", court clerks make home visits to the debtor, who is often overwhelmed, to inform them about possible installment payments and community service. They conclude written repayment agreements with clients and remind them of the relevant payment date.
In this way, it is possible to work out individual solutions together with the convict, said Gentges. "In this way, it is also possible to reach socially disadvantaged people who, above all, fail to organize their own everyday life, perhaps even opening the post office." On the one hand, the person concerned is spared imprisonment. On the other hand, the already full prisons and the state treasury, which has to pay around 135 euros per capita and day, would be relieved.
Because substitute imprisonment puts a huge strain on the system. Last year, an average of 430 prisoners served such a sentence, in the two years of the pandemic there were 266 (2020) and then 375 prisoners - significantly fewer because the execution was very often waived for the time being due to the pandemic situation.
However, the country is saving by far the most days of imprisonment thanks to the "sweating instead of sitting" project, which has already been established. Debtors to the state can avoid going to prison if they do community service. The number of hours to be served results from the number of days of imprisonment that would have to be served. After four hours of work, a day of detention is canceled. The project has existed in Baden-Württemberg since 1987.
However, the balance sheet could change significantly in the coming year. Because those who cannot or do not want to pay a fine should not have to spend so long in prison in the future. According to the plans of the federal government, a day of imprisonment should no longer correspond to one, but two so-called daily rates. The time behind bars would thus be halved. The amount of the daily rate is based on the income of the accused. The Bundestag still has to approve the draft.
Justice Minister Gentges doesn't think that's a particularly good idea. "The alternative imprisonment is needed as a last resort, so that fines are taken seriously as sanctions and paid."
Details on "Sweat not sit" Probation and court assistance to avoid fines and imprisonment