Ersatzfreiheitsstrafe (imprisonment in default of fine) is now the most common form of imprisonment in Germany. It is a prison term for people who do not pay their fines imposed by the court.
Every year, more than 50,000 people are imprisoned in this way in Germany. This is because they can’t pay, not because they don’t want to pay.
Many of these people have been convicted of minor offenses, often related to poverty, i.e. driving without a valid ticket or stealing food. These cases are considered “minor” because in over 90% of the cases, the people involved were sentenced to fines of three months’ pay or less.
The people imprisoned through an Ersatzfreiheitsstrafe have never been sentenced to prison, only to a fine.
Fines often result from racist and classist policing: Police disproportionately stop racialized people and those read as poor and charge them with minor offenses.
The law upholds and further entrenches this inequality: those who can pay their fine pay it. Those who can’t pay have to go to jail.
Help us fight this unjust system!