The Institute comprises two departments: the Department of Criminal Law, which is led by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Ulrich Sieber, and the Department of Criminology, which is headed by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hans-Jörg Albrecht.
Research in criminal law conducted at the Max Planck Institute since its founding has concentrated mainly on German and foreign criminal law and on international criminal law. Legal norms are interpreted on the basis of their historical, cultural, and social backgrounds and in light of case law. Approaches taken in the various legal systems with regard to current problems are compared, their advantages and disadvantages weighed against each other, and suggestions made and principles developed for the reform of existing law.
This work is conducted at the Institute in the Department of Criminal Law (headed by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Sieber). The Department is comprised of sections organized by country and topic. In the country sections, researchers monitor and analyze on a continuing basis the criminal law developments in their respective countries. Europe, for example, is studied in seven country sections. Some of these sections cover more than one country; some cover groups of countries (e.g., the section “Nordic countries” covers Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden).
The topical sections are responsible for investigating specific cross-national issues, also on a long-term basis. There are topical sections covering European criminal law, international criminal law, information law and legal informatics, and law and medicine. Individual questions that are the subject of intensive and systematic study are grouped together in such major project areas as cybercrime, criminal law in reaction to state crime, and national prosecution of international crimes.
Since Prof. Dr. Sieber’s arrival at the Institute, the research program of the Department of Criminal Law has pursued the three central challenges in the area of crime and the fight against crime that can be paraphrased with the key words “global society,” “information society,” and “new risk society.” Crime is becoming more global, and it increasingly makes use of international data networks; even individual cases of criminal activity can – via technology and organization – have significant consequences for an entire society.
Criminology is the study of the manifestations of criminal acts and their causes. Researchers in this field strive to clarify those crimes that are not registered in official statistics, the so-called “dark area” of unreported or undiscovered crime, and investigate the willingness of the public – the most important source of information in criminal justice systems – to report criminal activity. The attitude of the general public towards crime and punishment is also analyzed. Futhermore, criminologists examine criminal sanctions and treatment methods and their influence on convicted persons and their families; they also evaluate the effect of the administration of penal justice on the public’s perception of law and justice. Finally, the study of the various instances of the criminal justice system (police, prosecution, judiciary, and prison authorities) and their relationship to the citizen plays a vital role in this discipline, regardless of whether the individual appears in the capacity of complainant, accused, convict, witness, injured party, or simply as a member of the public at large.
The Department of Criminology (under the direction of Prof. Dr. Hans-Jörg Albrecht) carries out this work. Its activities are not organized by country, but rather by project, because criminological phenomena usually require cross-national analysis. The research program concentrates on five focal points: "Criminal Procedure and Sanctions in Transition," "Dangerous Offenders," "Homeland Security, Organised Crime, and Terrorism – Societal Perceptions and Reactions," "Crime, Social Context, and Social Change," and "The Development of Criminal Policy and the Rule of Law in Transitional Societies."