In a surprise move for the Liberal NEOS, party head Christoph Wiederkehr has announced demands for a new prison to be built “as soon as possible,” to replace the current Justizanstalt Josefstadt (Criminal justice institution Josefstadt) which has been overcrowded and understaffed. The institution was built in 1831 after being commissioned by Kaiser Franz I. and has since been refurbished and expanded many times. Nicknamed “Grey House” by the Viennese, because of the grey uniform’s the inmates once wore. However, the current building is housing more that 1200 “permanent” convicts in a space designed for about 1,000. “The Josefstadt Prison is having a hard time keeping up,” Wiederkehr told the press August 6. More prisons are needed.
“It is a powder keg”
In recent years, the prison workforce has declined, with staffers either moved to different institutions or dismissed entirely, leading to increased violence both among the inmates and also towards the wardens and guards. “It is a powder keg,” argues Wiederkehr. A new prison could alleviate the burden on the Josefstadt facility, allowing inmates to be more spread out and ease efforts and tensions inside the institution. Directing his appeal to the federal government, Wiederkehr has asked that the city council of Vienna forwards his petition to the higher ups.
Public debate about prisons
While several reasons have been cited for the overcrowding, the NEOS’ point to the lengthy court proceedings in the Austrian state court. Following the press conference on Aug. 6, the criminal advisory panel for the Judge’s Association voiced its support on Radio Wien, stating it was relieved that these problems have finally entered the political arena and are being discussed.
There are currently no plans for a new prison or expansion of the site.