v.l.n.r.: Ralf Poscher | Tatjana Hörnle | Jean-Louis van Gelder

Fol­low­ing the ap­point­ment of three new dir­ect­ors, the Max Planck In­sti­tute for For­eign and In­ter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Law in Freiburg is re­pos­i­tion­ing it­self in the re­search land­scape, a de­vel­op­ment re­flec­ted in its new name. From now on, this sci­entif­ic in­sti­tu­tion will be known as the Max Planck In­sti­tute for the Study of Crime, Se­cur­ity and Law.
Photo f.l.t.r.: Ralf Poscher | Tat­jana Hörnle | Jean-Louis van Geld­er


The name of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for For­eign and In­ter­na­tion­al Crim­in­al Law in Freiburg has been changed to Max Planck In­sti­tute for the Study of Crime, Se­cur­ity and Law, ef­fect­ive 4 March 2020. Fol­low­ing the re­tire­ment of dir­ect­ors emer­iti Hans-Jörg Al­brecht and Ul­rich Sieber and the ap­point­ment of a new Board of Dir­ect­ors, the In­sti­tute has ex­pan­ded the scope of its re­search and is set­ting new ac­cents in the in­vest­ig­a­tion of im­port­ant so­cial is­sues.

The Max Planck In­sti­tute, loc­ated in Freiburg’s Wiehre neigh­bor­hood, has gained world­wide re­cog­ni­tion since its found­ing in 1966 for two main areas of re­search, crim­in­o­logy and crim­in­al law, and for its study of is­sues re­lat­ing to crime, crim­in­al policy, and the role of crim­in­al law in the con­trol of il­leg­al con­duct in an in­ter­dis­cip­lin­ary man­ner. Now, after the re­ori­ent­a­tion, the In­sti­tute’s two ori­gin­al areas have been re­tained – and have been aug­men­ted by a third area: pub­lic se­cur­ity law.

Why do people com­mit crimes?

Un­der the lead­er­ship of Jean-Louis van Geld­er, a nat­ive of the Neth­er­lands, the em­phas­is of the De­part­ment of Crim­in­o­logy will shift to the psy­cho­lo­gic­al as­pects of crime. Van Geld­er, who has doc­tor­ates in both law and psy­cho­logy, will ex­plore the factors – in­di­vidu­al pre­dis­pos­i­tions as well as en­vir­on­ment­al in­flu­ences – that drive people to en­gage in crim­in­al activ­ity. To that end, schol­ars will carry out both long-term stud­ies and vir­tu­al real­ity-based be­ha­vi­or­al ex­per­i­ments. An ex­ample of the lat­ter is the Vir­tu­al Burg­lary pro­ject, in which test per­sons are im­mersed in a vir­tu­al burg­lary situ­ation and their be­ha­vi­or sci­en­tific­ally mon­itored. This meth­od en­ables re­search­ers to study how burg­lars se­lect their tar­gets and what risks they are will­ing to take. The goal of this pro­ject is to im­prove un­der­stand­ing of crim­in­al con­duct in or­der to con­trib­ute to the de­vel­op­ment of pre­ven­tion strategies.

How can crim­in­al policy and crim­in­al justice meet the chal­lenges of today’s so­ci­ety?

In the De­part­ment of Crim­in­al Law, re­search will be con­duc­ted on the found­a­tions of crim­in­al law, pro­hib­it­ory norms, and crim­in­al pun­ish­ments un­der con­di­tions of glob­al­iz­a­tion, mi­gra­tion, and the so­cial and cul­tur­al frag­ment­a­tion of so­ci­et­ies. Which of the fun­da­ment­al prin­ciples un­der­gird­ing crim­in­al policy and the ap­plic­a­tion of crim­in­al law are read­ily jus­ti­fi­able in con­tem­por­ary so­ci­et­ies and where are changes called for? Tat­jana Hörnle, who heads this de­part­ment, left her chair for crim­in­al law, crim­in­al pro­ced­ure, leg­al philo­sophy, and com­par­at­ive law at the Hum­boldt-Uni­versität zu Ber­lin to ac­cept the po­s­i­tion in Freiburg. An in­ter­na­tion­ally re­cog­nized ex­pert on the law of sexu­al of­fenses, she also brings this new re­search fo­cus to the In­sti­tute. Hörnle has ac­com­pan­ied and shaped re­cent le­gis­lat­ive re­form ini­ti­at­ives in this area, in­clud­ing amend­ments based on the prin­ciple of ‟no means no” that were in­tro­duced in­to the Ger­man Crim­in­al Code in 2016.

What can the state do to pre­vent risks to pub­lic se­cur­ity?

The In­sti­tute’s third, newly es­tab­lished de­part­ment, the De­part­ment of Pub­lic Law, is ded­ic­ated to the law of pub­lic se­cur­ity. Schol­ars work­ing un­der the lead­er­ship of Ralf Poscher will in­vest­ig­ate the ways in which a leg­al sys­tem can best re­spond to threats in or­der to pre­vent crimes and oth­er harms from oc­cur­ring. What can po­lice and do­mest­ic in­tel­li­gence agen­cies do to avert threats to pub­lic se­cur­ity, such as ter­ror­ism and or­gan­ized crime? How should po­lice forces ac­com­mod­ate demo­graph­ic changes in so­ci­ety? How should the risks and dangers of di­git­al­iz­a­tion be met, par­tic­u­larly in light of the in­dis­pens­ab­il­ity of this tech­no­logy? And, most im­port­antly, what are the lim­its of this “pre­vent­ive state”? One fo­cus of re­search is on fun­da­ment­al ques­tions of law, such as those con­cern­ing the re­la­tion­ship between law and the use of force, states of emer­gency, and oth­er phe­nom­ena en­countered at the out­er lim­its of the law, par­tic­u­larly those that arise in the con­text of the state as the guar­ant­or of se­cur­ity. Pri­or to as­sum­ing his po­s­i­tion at the In­sti­tute, Ralf Poscher was a pro­fess­or and dean of the Fac­ulty of Law at the Uni­versity of Freiburg.

The ap­proach to re­search con­duc­ted at the Max Planck In­sti­tute for the Study of Crime, Se­cur­ity and Law is in­ter­dis­cip­lin­ary and in­ter­na­tion­ally ori­ented. The stated goal of all three dir­ect­ors is to bring the top, most in­nov­at­ive schol­ars from around the world to the In­sti­tute in Freiburg. Their com­mon, over­arch­ing re­search ob­ject­ive is to con­duct ba­sic re­search and to pro­pose policy solu­tions to the fun­da­ment­al chal­lenges of our time. In the words of Hörnle, Poscher, and van Geld­er, “With a tri­fecta of re­search on crimin­al­ity, se­cur­ity, and law, we are in an ex­cel­lent po­s­i­tion to do just that.”


The Max Planck In­sti­tute for the Study of Crime, Se­cur­ity and Law is one of 86 in­sti­tutes and fa­cil­it­ies of the Max Planck So­ci­ety for the Ad­vance­ment of Sci­ence e.V. The Max Planck So­ci­ety con­ducts ba­sic re­search in the nat­ur­al sci­ences, life sci­ences, and hu­man­it­ies.