Contact with the outside world
Contact with the outside world
All prisoners have the right to receive visits
Each inmate has the right to two “ordinary” visits per week lasting for 20 minutes each, or a single visit of 40 minutes. “Ordinary” visits are permitted to inmates classed as “first and second grade”. “Third grade” inmates only have restricted daytime visits during their working hours.
Organisations working with prisoners indicated that the prison population seemed to be forgotten in the context of reopening the country after COVID-19 quarantine measures. Half of prisons have still not allowed family visits. Prison authorities reported that family visits have been able to resume in areas with low infection rates.
The initial visit permit is granted after a meeting with family members at the prison. The family members must provide their name, address, ID, preferred day and time for the visit and their relationship to the inmate (via the family record book). The rules are different for non-family members. The prisoner requests a visit permit in writing, addressed to the prison governor, indicating the name and identify of the visitor. The governor decides whether or not to grant the permit.
Visit permits are granted
within a week
People eligible to visit
family and friends
Only family members and friends who have been authorised are allowed to visit a prisoner. Visits generally take place at the weekend and are limited to four visitors.
Prisoners and visitors can meet without physical barriers
Ordinary visits take place in an individual cubicle with a thick glass window separating the prisoner from their visitors.
Prisoners are allowed to receive visits from their children or minor relatives
yes, special arrangements are provided
Children are allowed to visit. Family visits are specially arranged for children. These are requested by inmates who are unable to get an exit permit and take place in a dedicated area where activities are organised for the children. Family visits take place at least once [a month] and last for between one and three hours.
Conjugal visits are allowed
Required conditions for conjugal visits
established relationship for at least six months
Conjugal visits are allowed on condition that written proof can be provided of a stable relationship lasting for at least six months (Instruction 4/2005 of the General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions - SGIP). The sexual orientation of the couple is not taken into account. Some sentencing judges allow conjugal visits for couples whose relationship was established through letter-writing. The visitor must not have a criminal record.
Conjugal visits known as “vis-à-vis” are available to prisoners without exit permits. They take place at least once a month. These visits last between one and three hours and take place in a dedicated room that provides guaranteed privacy. These visits are also available to two inmates.
Another type of conjugal visit is the “shared life” visit (“Comunicaciones de conviviencia“), which is reserved for inmates who lived as part of a stable couple (whether married or not) before their incarceration. Children of less than ten years old may be present. These take place at least once a quarter and may last for up to six hours. The visiting area is furnished and equipped with drinks machines and food products. The length of these visits can be reduced by half if the prison does not have adequate premises.
Visitors are permitted to bring books and clothing when they attend. Food products must be purchased by the visitor from the prison shop. Items are provided to the prisoner by different methods depending on the type of visit:
- For ordinary visits, items are handed in when entering the prison, checked and then handed over to the prisoner.
- For other visits (vis-à-vis, shared life, etc.), the items are given directly to the inmate, who is often searched at the end of the visit.
The concerns of the prison administration are the main consideration when placing prisoners in an establishment. The case of Basque prisoners being held far from their families demonstrates this point. Family ties tend to deteriorate between the inmate and their loved ones. Travel costs are often cited as a reason.
Nearly 179 prisoner members of ETA were transferred to the Basque Country or nearby. The detained members of ETA accused of terrorism had previously been assigned to institutions across the country, in the framework of a dispersion policy implemented from 1987 to 2018. This meant that some families had to travel more than 1,000 kilometres in order to visit their detained relatives. The members of Etxerat, an association for the family members of prisoners who are part of ETA, pointed out that 73% of them are now imprisoned within less than 400 kilometres of the Basque Country.
These transfers caused controversy. The Association of Victims of Terrorism (AVT), which represents the families of the victims of the ETA attacks, notably criticised these reconciliations.
Prisoners are allowed to exchange mail
There is no limit to sending or receiving letters. The cost is borne by the prisoner.
Mail exchanged is subject to control
Letters received are often opened in the presence of the inmate so that the contents can be checked. Letters sent from prisons are also subject to censorship before being dispatched, although this generally does not apply to open prisons.
Prisoners are allowed to receive parcels
yes, under certain conditions
The number of parcels is limited to two per month, or one per month for “first grade” prisoners. A parcel cannot exceed five kilograms in weight. There is a list of banned items. Outgoing parcels are inspected prior to dispatch.
E-mail exchange is possible
Prisoners are allowed to make external phone calls
The rules allow five telephone calls per week (article 47). The prison authorities usually allow two calls, but the number varies according to the establishment and the detention regime. Each call is limited to five minutes.
Inbound calls are forbidden.
Prisoners are allowed to call
The prison management provides the initial authorisation. The inmate must provide details of the people they have selected, including their address, telephone number and the nature of their relationship.
The phones are located
in the communal areas
There is no guarantee of privacy when making calls.
The cost of phone calls is in line with market prices
“Telefónica” (telecoms company) has the monopoly in the sale of telephone cards. These are more expensive than they would be in the outside world.
Phones calls are wire tapped
Phone tapping is only used on inmates who are undergoing special surveillance (under the FIES regime – “Fichero de internos de especial seguimiento”).
The use of cell phones is authorised
The use of cell phones obtained on the black market is common. Inmates have an established network for lending and borrowing cell phones. Possession of a cell phone leads to disciplinary action (solitary confinement, withdrawal of walking rights, etc.)
Prisoners have access to video calls with external contacts
Inmates who have not had any visitors for a period of at least four months can request access to video-conferencing facilities.