Contributor(s)Esther Pascual - ICAM | Monica Aranda - OSPDH

Daily life

The cells are situated in the living areas. They normally have a bed, a table, a cabinet, a toilet and shower. A maximum of two prisoners may share a cell, provided that each one has an average space of at least 9.71m2. This is not always practiced. Recently built prisons are designed to hold more than two prisoners in one cell.

Prisoners complain of a lack of hot water in winter and of the small size of the windows in the cells.

The ordinary regime (second degree) provides compulsory elements (toilet, upkeep of the cell). There is a basic programme which each prisoner must respect. Before 8, they may use the toilet, and then the first count takes place. At 8:30am, they have breakfast in the dining hall. There are activities which the prisoners can participate in or they may take a walk in the courtyard, until 1:30pm. At 1:30pm, they have lunch. From 2:30pm, they return to their cell and are counted again. The prisoners stay in their cells until 4:30pm, when they may go out to the courtyard again or participate in activities. At 7:30pm, they return to the dining hall for dinner. The prisoners may then stay in the courtyard until 9:00pm before returning to their cell. At 9:30pm, they are counted again and lights out is at midnight.

Private companies provide the food, which is prepared by the prisoners who work in the kitchens.

The food diet takes into consideration a certain number of criteria such as age, state of health, religious or personal convictions. Three meals are served daily and water is available.

Human rights organizations regard the level of hygiene in Spanish prisons to be satisfactory and are above the European average.

Each month the penitentiary administration distributes a toiletry kit with soap, toothpaste, condoms, lubricant, razors, shaving cream, etc. They also provide sheets and clothing (prisoners may wear their own clothing). There is an unlimited number of showers a week. The centres have a Laundromat where clothes are washed once a week.

Healthcare in Spanish prisons falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Internal Affairs.

A team of primary healthcare providers provides ambulatory care in the prisons. There are often not enough health care professionals (1 doctor per 1,200 prisoners).

Each prison is associated with a reference hospital, which must have a secured unit for patients.

According to a report released in 2014 from SGIP, 76% of the prisoners incarcerated this year took drugs the month prior their incarceration. In risk reduction programmes, 6.9% of the prison population received methadone in 2014. Syringes and condoms were distributed to avoid the spread of HIV.

Therapeutic units, across the 42 penitentiary centres offer psychosocial support to inmates who are drug-addicts. However, access to therapeutic resources is limited. Help provided for drug addicts is mainly to serve as an alternative to imprisonment or as a follow-up workshop once the person is released, but not as a therapeutic and/or medical treatment.

The Spanish Society for Penitentiary Health (SESP) is pleading for penitentiary health to be attached to the Ministry of Health. This would facilitate the transfer of medical files and the coordination of health programmes. In Catalonia and the Basque Region, the jurisdiction of this service has been transferred to the Ministry of Health. In these two communities, the number of hospitalizations has decreased.

According to SGIP’s 2014 report, Spain has the largest number of sports participation: 24,429 prisoners practice a sport (ping-pong, basketball, football) and 4,834 have participated in inter-prison championships or championships organized between prisoners within the same institution.

Then, there are cultural workshops (theatre, music, cinema) with 20,810 participants; professional workshops with courses on painting, photography, sculpture, ceramics (19,347 participants); and finally, cultural motivation activities (2,531 participants) focused on reading (1,693 participants), poetry competitions, playwriting, journalism, storytelling, etc.

The government organization responsible for penal labour in Spain is the Penal Labour and Professional Training (Trabajo Penitenciario y Formación para el Empleo, TPFE).

According to SGIP, the number of prisoners who worked was 12,269 in 2014, that is around 20% of the prison population. Untried prisoners do not have the right to work. Second-degree prisoners may work inside the prison, while third-degree prisoners work on the outside (Cf. Prison population).

Prisoners work in different workshops. Persons posted to general service are responsible for daily tasks within the institutions. In 2014, 1,763 prisoners were employed in the kitchen, 1,566 in the canteen and 805 were responsible for the upkeep of the facilities. Production workshops are managed by the TPFE. Their activities cover graphic arts, woodworking and handicraft.

In 2014, 3,310 prisoners were employed by private businesses. The agreements made by the Secretary-general of Penal Institutions are unclear. Penal institutions provide services (water, electricity) and facilities, within semi-industrial complexes.

Prisoners do not have the right to join trade unions and do not benefit from legal work protection. The average salary is 200 to 300 Euros per month. Unemployment benefits are generally very weak. In addition, it cancels any allowance given when the prisoner leaves the prison, which is higher and is given over a longer period of time (426 Euros per month for a maximum of 5 months). The work done in prison is qualified as done in “public centre” (name given to work within a penal environment). This name is only used by the penal administration and may be discriminatory.

Detainees working

20 %

/ without Catalonia - SGIP

According to the latest figures released by SGIP (2014), 36.7% of the prison population participates in a training or professional orientation programme (in a penal centre or in an external service).

32% of the prisoners follow a primary education programme, which is compulsory if they have not finished this cycle. 12% among them participate in a literacy programme (11.9% men and 17.9% women).

Female prisoners have many more difficulties than men in gaining access to training because they are not as widely offered for women as for men.

University distance learning programmes are offered by the National University of Distance Learning (UNED). 17 penal institutions offer help with the courses. Madrid V and Madrid VI prisons have a unit for UNED students. 2.1% of the prison population (1,042 persons) took university courses in 2014.

Prisoners have access to the television in the common room. Cell newspapers and televisions may be purchased.

First-degree prisoners have limited access to media.

All centres have a library, however some do not have a reading room.

Internet access is available during IT courses, but access to certain websites is restricted.

In 2007, the State signed agreements with different religious organizations to facilitate religious assistance.

The most represented are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical Protestantism, Catholicism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity.

In its 2014 report, SGIP agreed to provide a subsidy of 309,500€ to the Spanish Episcopal Conference to assist Catholic prisoners. The Islamic Commission of Spain received 3 930€. 10% of prisoners are Muslim.

The Penal staff is ordered to observe the prisoners’ religious practices with an IR document (Radicalized Inmates in Spanish). What do they eat? Do they fast during Ramadan? What books are they reading? Are they strict observers of their religious rites? How do they shave or dress? Have they stopped smoking or listening to music?

In 2014, the SGIP states that there are 9,293 external participants from NGOs, professionals or volunteers. They work on social and professional rehabilitation, drug addiction, education, specific categories of prisoners and raising awareness of civil society.

The prisoner’s money is deposited into an account by the prisoner’s family, charitable organizations, or lawyer. Cash is prohibited. Electronic cards may be used within a limit of 80€ per week. Inmates may buy stamps, telephone cards, toiletries and food. Other items such as books or television sets may be bought outside by an “authorized representative”.

Prisoners choose the persons they have authorized to deposit the money into their account. An information system, installed in 2015, allows the user to verify whether a person is authorized to transfer money to several prisoners within the 68 prisons in the country. The system automatically emits a report if it detects that the same person has made transfers to the accounts of more than three prisoners. The measure was taken to supervise more particularly the prisoners with an IR file.

Prisoners without resources cannot have telephone access or have access to any other paid service inside the prisons.

In February, Jose Antunez Becerra, a prisoner in Brians Prison (Barcelona), began a hunger strike to protest against what he considers to be a disguised life sentence. Mr Antunez Becerra has been in prison for 40 years. He was incarcerated for theft and was condemned in 2004 to 19 additional years for having participated in a riot in the Modelo prison (Barcelona). In 2014, he carried out his first hunger strike to request that his case be reviewed. The administration had accepted to grant him permission to be released. This promise was not held; he started a new hunger strike in 2015. M. Antunez Becerra has gone two months without eating, at the cost of gravely affecting his health; he had to be admitted and practically lost his sight. Throughout the length of his hunger strike, human rights activists were not authorized to enter the prison. The penal surveillance judge finally revoked this prohibition once his hunger strike was ended1.

  1. “One of the oldest prisoners in Spain on hunger strike for 53 days” dans La Vanguardia, 17/03/2015 (only in Spanish) 

Prisoners admitted for the first time in an institution are subject to a body search; forbidden objects such as mobile phones, watches, money are confiscated. They are returned to their families or to the prisoners upon their release.

Full searches or cell searches are authorized if the staff suspect the prisoner of possessing forbidden objects such as cutting weapons or drugs.

If forbidden objects are discovered during a search, the prisoner may be sent into isolation. This measure may also be implemented if a fight breaks out between prisoners.

In isolation, counts are done at night. It consists of hitting on the bars or the windows, waking up prisoner and then lighting the cell with at least a flashlight. Prisoners who have been kept in isolation speak of the anxiety they experience while waiting for the count which may take place between two and four o’clock in the morning. They also say that they feel humiliated and have difficulty falling back to sleep.

European CPT has condemned isolation on several occasions (the last time in 2011) which it considers to be a uselessly severe punishment.

Other means of constraint admitted by law are physical strength, rubber fenders, appropriate action sprays and handcuffs. This material is normally stored in the facilities. They must be previously authorized by the Director and its use is controlled with a register where several annotations are added: start and end date or use, mean used, detailed report of facts, other measures adopted.

Staffs are only authorized to use firearms when the facilities or persons are in danger.

In 2009, the FIES system (document on prisoners requiring special surveillance) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but it was legalized again in 2011 per Royal Decree 419-2011.

The FIES system is applied to different categories of prisoners, notably members of armed groups, terrorist groups, and people who belonged to security forces. It is applied de facto to all the prisoners with an IR file (Radicalized inmates).

FIES carries out a strict observance of the daily life of prisoners: intercepting all communication, including with lawyers, prohibiting activities and frequent cell searches.