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In Germany, Therapy For Sex Offenders In A Hard Metal Setting

A new German law requires therapy for criminals who served their full sentences but are still deemed too dangerous for release. In the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, therapy sessions are set to begin in a refurbished facility that looks a lot like a prison

In Germany, Therapy For Sex Offenders In A Hard Metal Setting
Kristian Frigelj

OBERHAUSEN -- The sound of the alarm goes right through you – and through the prison walls. In the former penitentiary in Oberhausen, somebody has set it off. Markus Brehmer rushes out of cell 220 and calls down the hall: "Who did that? Mr. Reimann, please turn that off!" Somebody in a nearby cell had meant to turn on the light and pushed the wrong button by mistake.

A few moments later, silence returns, and Brehmer continues to show a group of reporters around the different floors of the facility with its steel doors and barred partitions. There aren't any more prisoners here. This old penitentiary opposite Oberhausen's train station is empty, though not for long.

A first group of sex offenders and violent criminals are due to move in soon. These are men who are still considered dangerous, but who – thanks to a Supreme Court decision – are being released from preventive detention in the penal system.

The former prison, which still looks exactly like a prison, has now been baptized the Oberhausen Therapy Center. The facility is being run by the Landschaftsverband Rheinland (LVR), a service association charged with the task by the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. Brehmer, who is employed by the LVR, is the section head in charge of the new "therapy center."

On the tour, Brehmer highlights the additional bars on the windows, made of Mangan hard metal, the additional surveillance cameras, the service rooms with the control monitors on each floor. He also points out an unobtrusive grey box mounted on a hall wall: "That's the personal emergency call system – one of our biggest investments," he says.

As soon as a guard presses a red button on his mobile phone or pulls a pin out (much in the same way one would remove the pin from a grenade) an emergency call gets sent from this box to a group of guards known as the "alarm group." They can see what floor the call is coming from, and rush to help.

A million-euro makeover

Nordrhein-Westfalen's red/green (socialist and green party) government spent some 1.2 million euros on converting the old jail, which used to house 80 prisoners, but is now limited to 18 people for whom 40 guards, doctors, psychologists and social workers will be responsible.

Many walls that previously divided the space into small cells were broken through to create larger spaces – each equipped with a TV, tables and a kitchen. Patients will be living in groups.

Nordrhein-Westfalen is the first German state to come up with a solution for dealing with dangerous criminals who cannot be let back out into society after they have served their prison sentences but who, according to a 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights, cannot continue to be detained in a penal institution.

An amendment to the law in 1998 made it possible to continue preventive detention for an undetermined length of time. But the decision of the European Court is relevant to all the so called "old cases' – i.e. cases involving people convicted prior to the change and who, after serving their sentence and a maximum of 10 years preventive detention, were kept behind bars because of the level of danger they represented for society.

German courts reacted differently to the Strasbourg judge's decision, but a law that went into effect at the beginning of the year stated that prisoners who are considered extremely dangerous or are mentally disturbed must be transferred from preventive detention in a prison to a closed therapeutic facility.

But it's taking a while to find locations for such facilities and to install them. Meanwhile some detainees, released into society for lack of therapy centers, committed new crimes even though they were under around-the-clock police surveillance. Two weeks ago, a 49-year-old pedophile managed to evade police and shortly afterwards abused a small girl.

The Oberhausen Therapy Center is meant to prevent perpetrators who are potential recidivists from getting back into society too quickly after they are released from preventive detention. But, says head psychologist Verena Peykan, the therapy they are getting is being done with an eye to their eventual return to society.

According to experts, fast results should not be anticipated. These are mostly men, 60 or older who have been behind bars for decades and – with the expectation that they would spend the rest of their lives in jail – were not given therapy.

The first inmate, a 63-year-old man, is due to arrive within a couple of weeks.

The converted Oberhausen jail is seen as a temporary solution until the end of 2012. The state health ministry is looking around for a permanent location – discreetly, so as to keep public opposition to a minimum.

Read the original article in German

Photo - astuecker

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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