U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Mass Amnesty - The East German Answer to Prison Overcrowding

NCJ Number
American Journal of Criminal Law Volume: 11 Issue: 3 Dated: (November 1983) Pages: 369-385
J C Palenberg
Date Published
17 pages
This article explores the motivations behind East Germany's grant of mass amnesty to prison inmates and analyzes whether lessons relevant to the American prison overcrowding crisis can be drawn from East Germany's experience.
In 1979, East Germany freed three out of every four convicts in the country to celebrate the Republic's 30th anniversary. Other amnesties have occurred in East Germany's past. Repeated amnesties have a corrosive effect on the criminal justice system. Amnesties permit the state to assume the role of the firm but sparing parent, exhibit a show of strength by the regime, save money, and reduce prison overcrowding. A West German scholar suggests that because East Germany jails offenders at a comparatively high rate, it must discharge them periodically in order to continue operating. Other theorists suggest that the amnesties represent an attempt to gain international support or to rid the prison system of public order offenders who are sentenced more severely than in the West. A combination of these theories probably serves as the answer to the amnesty puzzle. Evidence suggests that the East German public's response to these amnesties has not been enthusiastic. A similar mass amnesty in the United States would also meet with resistance, although amnesties have been granted in the past. The East German solution to prison overcrowding is inapplicable to the United States because the East Germans can more readily keep released prisoners under surveillance, they will meet less popular resistance, they have a tradition of mass amnesties, they release inmates who would make up a comparatively small proportion of the U.S. prison population, and they can expect their prisoners to be under less pressure to return to crime. Ninety-seven footnotes are supplied.


No download available