v.l.n.r.: Ralf Poscher | Tatjana Hörnle | Jean-Louis van Gelder © Baschi Bender/MPI-CSL

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.