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The Prisons Archive - Strafvollzugsarchiv

Johannes Feest founded the Prisons Archive in 1977 after his appointment as professor at the University of Bremen’s Faculty of Law. As its name since 1983 indicates, we are collecting literature and judicial decisions about prisons and prison law. However, the central activity of the prisons archive since its beginning cannot be deduced from its name: the answering of letters by prisoners on questions about their legal situation and possibilities of litigation. These letters are answered by our (continuously only small) team with varying voluntary participation of researchers, students, lawyers and others. 

In 2012 the Prisons Archive has moved from the University of Bremen, Faculty of Law, to the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Dortmund, Faculty of Applied Social Sciences, where now Christine Graebsch and Sven Burkhardt are responsible for its continuance. The Prisons Archive is still supported by the affiliates association Verein Strafvollzugsarchiv e.V. in Bremen with Johannes Feest as its chairperson.

From the beginning, the Prisons Archive has been dedicated to research about prison law in action and about the experience of imprisonment. The communication with prisoners – even though initiated by their questions about law – has never been a one-way communication but a mutual process of learning. The experience of imprisonment as it can be understood by communicating with prisoners continuously influences teaching at several universities (Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts, University of Bremen, University of Hamburg) as well as publications and political debate. One important publication connected with the Prisons Archive starting with its first edition is the inter-disciplinary commentary on German Prison Law with its 7th edition published in 2017 (Johannes Feest, Wolfgang Lesting, Michael Lindemann (eds.): Strafvollzugsgesetze. Wolters Kluwer). Recently a publication series of the Prisons Archives has been established at Springer International Publishing.

The voluntary work of the Prisons Archive comprises foremost answering letters with respect to the following subjects:

  • Prison law and the execution of sentences
  • Custody in forensic psychiatric hospitals or drug treatment clinics
  • Preventive detention (“Sicherungsverwahrung”) after the sentence
  • Probation, re-entry, parole and supervision after release
  • Pre-trial-detention
  • Detention awaiting deportation, and awaiting deportation or extradition during the prison sentence
  • Supply of prisoner’ journals with legal information


The voluntariness of our work poses restrictions to what we are able to do and how detailed we are able to answer the letters of prisoners. Additionally, we are unable to answer questions that are outside the scope of our competency as described above.

Especially, it is impossible for us to fulfil the following requests:

  • Answering questions on the phone
  • Donating books (we haven’t got any budget to do so)
  • This also applies to the commentary on German Prison Law (we would have to buy it ourselves)
  • Copying list of judicial decisions as selected by prisoners (this would exceed our personal, time-wise and financial capacities; please ask specific questions and therefore shortly describe your situation, we will ask you for additional information if necessary)