The Penal System
Managing the penal system lies within the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Constitutional Affairs, Reforms, Deregulation and Justice. Its Directorate General for the Prison Service and Preventive Detention serves as the highest authority of the penal system and is responsible for its strategic management and its staff and functional supervision.
The Austrian legal system distinguishes three types of imprisonment imposed by criminal courts, namely pre-trial detention, penal service and preventive measures in connection with detention. Pre-trial detention must be imposed if a person is urgently suspected of having committed a punishable act and if one of the reasons for detention stipulated by law (risk of absconding, risk of collusion, and risk of committing and/or perpetrating an offence) prevails.
The Penal Services Act governs any penal service imposed by a court. According to Section 20 of that Act, serving a prison sentence is intended to assist the convicted person to regain a righteous attitude towards life that is adapted to the needs of living in a community, as well as to prevent him/her from following criminal inclinations. Moreover, the enforcement of a sentence is to demonstrate the negative value of the conduct underlying the conviction.
The Criminal Code distinguishes two types of punishments: imprisonment and fines. Punishment is a reaction to a preceding culpable conduct of the person convicted. In addition, the Criminal Code provides for preventive measures in connection with detention. These are determined by the
particular danger posed by the offender. They are also used whenever they serve to obtain better results with regard to re-socialising the offender and protecting society, or when no punishment can be administered in the absence of guilt (e.g. for lack of criminal responsibility). The most important of these measures is the placement of persons in institutions for mentally disturbed offenders. This measure is imposed for an unlimited period. The court must examine, at least on an annual basis, whether such placement is still necessary. Preventive measures are administered in prisons, specialised departments or in certain public psychiatric hospitals.
In total, there are 27 prisons and a number of prison annexes, which are partly run as agricultural enterprises. About 8,800 persons are detained in Austrian prisons. Thereof, about 6,200 serve a prison sentence, 1,700 are pre-trial detainees, and 900 persons are detained in involuntary forensic placement. About six per cent of prisoners are women, less than two per cent are juvenile delinquents and about six per cent are young adults (persons between the ages of 18 and 21 years). Approximately 4,400 prisoners, i.e. about 50 per cent, hailing from more than 100 nations, have no Austrian nationality.
Every prisoner capable of work is obliged to work. The work environment is an important area of technical and social learning. Different workshops and enterprises in about 50 branches are available in Austrian prisons. For their work, prisoners earn remuneration, which is to help them to return to an orderly life after serving their prison term.
The Republic of Austria has entrusted nation-wide probationary services to a private entity, i.e. the organisation “Neustart” – (A New Start – Probationary Services, Conflict Solution and Social Work). “Neustart” operates throughout Austria. In addition to providing probationary services, they also offer services in connection with out-of-court settlement of offences, assistance to persons released from prison, and they provide housing facilities. “Neustart” has facilities in all Federal provinces. The initiatives also comprise advice and help upon release from prison, as well as communication centres, training for work, finding community service, clearing, crime prevention, drug counselling, family support, social work in schools, assistance to juveniles, and assistance to crime victims.