Admission and evaluation
All inmates are admitted to prison with a valid commitment order
Prisoners can inform their families about their imprisonment
This right is restricted in the case of “incommunicado” detention (detention where prisoners are not allowed to communicate with other people) (articles 509, 510, 520 and 527). This secret regime can be applied to persons suspected of belonging to a militant, terrorist or rebel group. It can also be applied to minors.
A detained person can remain in custody for five to ten days without communicating with their lawyer or being examined by a doctor, and without their family or consulate being informed of their place of detention. Since the reform of the “incommunicado” system in 2015, a judge must issue an order to impose these restrictions1.
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Spanish Government on the visit to Spain carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 27 September to 10 October 2016”, 2017, pp. 19-20. ↩
There is a reception area for arriving prisoners
in all facilities
All arriving prisoners spend a short period, often one to two hours, in a reception area, before being allocated a cell. The medical service examines the prisoner. A committee composed of several professionals (educators, social workers, psychologists) interview the new arrival and assign them to the most appropriate place in accordance with the criteria of classification and separation, taking into account their personality and criminal record.
A copy of the prison regulations is made available to the prisoners
A brochure entitled “Life In Prison” was produced until 2010, publication was halted due to the financial crisis. Prisoners now learn of the regulations from their fellow inmates or from lawyers in the Judicial and Penitentiary Assistance and Orientation Service (Servicios de Asistencia y Orientación Jurídico-Penitenciaria, SOAJP)
Allocation to cells is dictated in the prison rules by the complete separation of the sexes, prisoners’ physical and mental states, age, previous criminal records, and the prison regime. Prisoners are allocated a cell after a psychological evaluation, which is taken into account by the wardens responsible for each unit. Above all, cell allocation is dependent on the availability of places.
Access to rights
Prisoners can be assisted by a lawyer throughout their incarceration
People arrested for common law crimes have access to a lawyer, either officially designated or of their choice, while in custody. In cases of “incommunicado” detention, interrogations usually take place without a lawyer present. Legal aid is available for Spanish citizens, citizens of other EU countries, and other foreigners who can demonstrate that they lack sufficient resources (eligibility is defined by Article 2 of the law on free legal representation). An insufficiency of resources is defined according to the total household income, not only the revenue of the prisoner. Resources taken into account are gross resources. The eligibility thresholds for legal aid in 2017 were:
- For a person living alone: the applicant must demonstrate a gross monthly income equal to or lower than 1065 Euros.
- For a person living in a family of three people or fewer: the applicant and their family must demonstrate a gross monthly income equal to or lower than 1331 Euros.
- For a person living in a family of four members or more: the applicant and their family must demonstrate a gross monthly income equal to or lower than 1597 Euros.
Prisoners have access to a legal aid centre
Various regions’ law schools offer legal aid to prisoners, in collaboration with the SOAJP. Advisors from the SOAJP represent prisoners when making appeals to the sentence enforcement judge.
Spain does not recognise the existence of prisoners of conscience. Multiple NGOs have denounced this lack of recognition. The existence of prisoners of conscience or political prisoners is a deeply controversial subject, particularly since the referendum on Catalonian independence held at the end of 2017. Some independence leaders were imprisoned for their role in the rebellion, following the declaration of independence of “the Republic of Catalonia1”.
Around one hundred professors of law mobilised against this act. They contest the accusation of “rebellion”, underlining the lack of “violent uprising”. Amnesty International has spoken out multiple times on the issue to reiterate the importance of the right to freedom of expression and to peaceful assembly. According to Amnesty, the imprisonment of Catalan leaders for serious crimes is an excessive and unjustified measure.
Deaths in custody are logged in a register
Figures on deaths in prison custody are published on a regular basis annually
Number of deaths in custody
210 deaths in SGIP institutions and 36 in DGSP institutions.
A prisoner died of his injuries following a fire in Castellón II prison, Albocàsser. It was reported that he set fire to his mattress whilst in an observed isolation unit. It was the third fire incident in a fortnight at the prison. A staff union issued demands for increased resources and training, as well as legislative change to ban prisoners from having lighters in custody.
Variation in the number of deaths in custody
increased by 30%
188 deaths were recorded in 2017:
- 147 people in the establishments controlled by the SGIP
- 41 people in the establishments controlled by the DGSP
Variation in the number of suicides
increase of 17%
In 2017, 35 deaths were attributed to suicide
Prison suicides increased during the pandemic with 11 deaths recorded in the month of April 2021. There were 49 suicides in 2019, and 51 in 2020. These rates are 25% higher than the European average. The higher figures might be at least in part due to increased use of solitary confinement during the pandemic. The Asociación Famílies de Presos de Catalunya (Catalonian Association of Families of Prisoners) notes that four suicides were recorded in the previous three weeks in Catalonian prisons. The association was sceptical of these reports, warning that homicides were sometimes disguised as suicides.
Death rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
205 per 100,000 inmates
Suicide rate in custody (per 10,000 prisoners)
59 per 100,000 inmates
National suicide rate (per 10,000 inhabitants)
8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants
The prison service must notify a judicial authority for
some deaths, violent deaths
A death always leads to an autopsy and an investigation.
There have been no reported delays in informing the family of a deceased prisoner of their death. However, there have been complaints of a lack of consideration shown on these occasions. Relatives have sometimes questioned the authorities’ version of events, particularly when other prisoners have reported incidents involving guards prior to the death.
Suicide prevention policies are implemented
A national training programme for prisoners enabling them to support fellow prisoners at risk of suicide has been in operation since 2005. These prisoners are trained by psychologists and have been nicknamed “guardian angels”. The Ombudsman referred to a case of suicide in 2017, in which the individual at risk was placed in an observation cell, with increased supervision and a fellow prisoner to offer support. The individual committed suicide while their companion was asleep. The Ombudsman stressed the responsibility of the penitentiary administration to enact suicide prevention policies and discouraged the delegation of this responsibility to prisoners1. The SGIP has created a suicide prevention programme, which has been implemented in 70 penitentiary facilities under its administration. The DGSP does not have a similar programme but plans to enact one in its prisons2.
Inquiries linked to allegations of torture or illl-treatment are partial and limited, verging on non-existent. The administration is not in a position to establish a judgement on the reality of ill-treatment. Prison officers are rarely subject to judicial condemnation. The most common sanction is a suspension of their employment.
The Coordinator for the Prevention and Denunciation of Torture (CPDT) has reported a general climate of fear and intimidation. These circumstances prevent prisoners from complaining of poor treatment.
Prisoners in León prison have complained to a delegation from the CPT of physical ill-treatment. They did not lodge a complaint due to intimidation from staff.
During the CPT visit to Catalonia, the delegation noted numerous cases of ill-treatment by prison officers. Prisoners who are agitated or those who show signs of violence are often slapped, punched or clubbed in their cells or in a separate room. The CPT is very concerned about such violence.1
European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report to the Spanish Government carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 6 to 13 September 2018”, 2020, pp. 23-27. ↩
A video dated 16 August 2021 showed prison officers violently assaulting prisoners at Villena prison. The Interior Minister opened a formal inquiry. The deputy Governor of the prison in charge of the security was the victim of intimidation outside her home the night before her appearance at the inquiry. One of the assailants was reported to have said “Let’s see what you have to say tomorrow.”
The prohibition of torture is enshrined in the Constitution and the legislation
Article 15 of the Constitution: “Everyone has the right to life and to physical and moral integrity. Nobody may, in any case, be subjected to torture, nor to inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. The death penalty is abolished, except for cases in which military law is established in times of war.” This right is restated in the Penal Code and the constitutional law of 2008. Acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment carry sentences of between six months and two years’ imprisonment, according to article 173 of the Penal Code. Acts of torture can lead to sentences of between one and three years, increasing to between two and six years if the offence is committed in aggravating circumstances. Perpetrators are also forbidden from working as wardens for between eight and twelve years (article 174 of the Penal Code).
The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) was
ratified in 1987
(signed in 1985)
All allegations and suspicions of ill-treatment inflicted on prisoners are logged
Complaints of ill-treatment must be logged in a registry. This log is nonexistent in most facilities. The Ombudsman has stressed the importance of maintaining a register in each establishment and has noted that the available data is imprecise and contradictory. This results in a poor understanding of torture and ill-treatment. The CPDT publishes an annual report of ill-treatment and cases of torture. The CPDT draws on information provided by victims and their relatives, lawyers and human rights organisations. It also uses information from courts and from trustworthy newspaper articles.
The CPDT maintains that the listed number of cases are partial, and that a large number of incidents of mistreatment go unreported due to fear of retribution and a lack of confidence in the judicial system.
The Ombudsman and the CPT delegations may conduct confidential interviews with prisoners during their visits. Information from these visits is not made public. The Watchdog for the Prison System and Human Rights, a research centre based at the University of Barcelona, lists cases of poor treatment and torture in prison. It uses the System of Registration and Communication of Institutional Violence (SIRECOVI), which allows communication with victims to protect them.
The torture prevention policy includes training staff on human rights issues, and regular visits by the Ombudsman and CPT. This policy also allows, on the recommendation of the SGIP, the installation of surveillance cameras in cells equipped with restraints. The SGIP has, however, refused to regulate the recording, acquisition, conservation and transmission of the images from the CCTV system in prison facilities. The Ombudsman has criticised the variation in video surveillance systems, and the lack of transparency resulting from this heterogeneity. They underline the absence of supervision for staff or of guarantees of prisoners’ rights1.
Ombudsman, “2017 Annual Report and debates in the General Courts”, 2018, pp. 180-181. (in Spanish). ↩
The Ombudsman has proposed, in a study published in May 2014, to adapt the Istanbul Protocol to suit conditions in Spain. The state has not followed this recommendation to date. Heath professionals are under the authority of the Minster of the Interior. The CPT delegation has criticised the indifferent attitude of care staff. One of them, in the prison of Madrid V, claims to hardly see the value of reporting injuries, arguing that wounded prisoners would be examined in hospital prior to being admitted to the facility. Potential injuries on arrivals are often described in a superficial manner. No reference is made to the circumstances in which an injury may have happened.
Each prison facility keeps an updated record of violence between inmates
A protocol was established in June 2017, in conjunction with trade unions, to ensure optimal data collection. It has been criticised by human rights organisations and prison doctors, as prisoners’ personal medical data, such as mental health reports, are now accessible to non-medical staff.
Acts of violence between prisoners are investigated
The first response to violence between prisoners is to isolate the individuals involved. The prison inspectorate opens an inquiry when a case is brought to their attention. Disciplinary or criminal sanctions are imposed, according to the nature of the incident.
The trade union, ACAIP, attributes the rise in violence to a shortage of staff, the ageing workforce and a lack of training. The number of prisoners suffering from psychiatric issues is rising, which requires increased vigilance by wardens.
Number of complaints filed by prisoners against the prison service
All prisoners can submit petitions or complaints regarding their treatment and prison conditions. Complaints and appeals can be submitted verbally or in writing to prison authorities (the staff, manager, or facility director), judiciary authorities, the Ombudsman, or the public prosecutor.
All prison establishments have a computerised central registry to log petitions and complaints. Appeals relating to disciplinary sanctions, initial classifications, an increase or decrease in grade, and decisions affecting fundamental rights are all presented to the facility director, who transmits them to the judicial authority. A certificate of receipt in a sealed envelope is delivered to the prisoner.
National Preventive Mechanisms and other external control bodies
The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was
ratified in 2006
(signed in 2005)
An NPM has been established
yes, in 2009
Name of the NPM
Defensor del Pueblo
The Spanish NPM is the Ombudsman. The autonomous community of Catalonia has its own NPM, named “Sindic de Greuges”.
The NPM has come into office
yes, in 2009
Parliament, in November 2009, conferred the role of NPM on the Ombudsman, which has existed since December 1982.
The NPM was appointed by
The NPM is elected by a three-fifths majority of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate.
Structure of the NPM
collegiate body of 3 members
The NPM is assisted by two delegates.
Term of office of the NPM
5 years, renewable, revokable
Their mandate is revokable if:
- they are negligent in completing their duties
- they are convicted of an intentional crime, by a final judgement
The NPM carries out their role with independence, impartiality, autonomy and at their own discretion. They conduct regular visits to prisons, and issue recommendations to the authorities.
The NPM reports are made public
The reports from their visits are presented each year to the Cortes Generales, and to the UN sub-committee on the prevention of torture.
Number of visits made by the NPM during the year
In 2018, The NPM visited fifteen prisons, a prison psychiatric hospital and a social reintegration centre. The same number of visits was carried out in 2017 and 2018 (16 prisons and one prison psychiatric hospital in 2017).
The legislation allows the NPM to carry out unannounced visits
The NPM can make unannounced visits. In most cases, however, they will announce their arrival.
All citizens, whether Spanish or foreign, can complain directly to the Ombudsman or NPM on their website, by letter, by fax, or in person. The NPM may also refer matters to themself. Confidentiality is not guaranteed in communications between prisoners and the NPM.
The NPM can monitor all prison facilities, units and premises
The Ombudsman outlines in their annual reports the application of their recommendations. They develop a framework of the principle elements evaluated during each prison visit. The framework follows the criteria evaluated the previous year and indicates their progress. There are four grades available: sufficiently successful, partially successful, not adequately achieved, and not evaluated.
The CPT notes that sentence enforcement judges’ main function is to validate the decisions of the prison administration. It laments that these judges do not fulfil their role in ensuring proportionality and the appropriateness of authorities’ decisions in a satisfactory fashion. Prisoners have expressed to a CPT delegation their lack of confidence in the institution1.
CPT, “Report on the visit of 27 September to 10 October 2016”, 2017, p. 54. ↩
A regional body monitors the places of deprivation of liberty
The European Council’s CPT visits centres for the deprivation of liberty every two years.
Its reports are made public
The last published report was in 2017, and concerned a visit made the previous year. All reports are available in English here.
The Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) has visited the country
from 15 to 26 October 2017
Its report was made public
Spanish members of Parliament are authorised to conduct visits to prisons.
Sentence adjustments policies
The law provides for a sentence adjustment system
The judge responsible for the enforcement of sentences oversees sentence adjustments (article 90 of the Penal Code).
The sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is pronounced (ab initio)
A sentence can be adjusted as soon as it is announced. Articles 88 and 89 of the Penal Code makes provision for judges to impose a fine or community service, in place of a prison sentence of two years or less. Repeat offenders are not eligible for this measure. Community service is unpaid and cannot exceed eight hours daily. It is dependent on the consent of the individual concerned. Prison sentences can be replaced by security measures, such as being forbidden to visit certain places, placement in a psychiatric facility, etc. Foreigners, depending on the crime committed, can choose to be deported.
Sentence adjustments can be granted during the incarceration
Article 90 of the Penal Code allows the sentence enforcement judge to suspend a sentence. They may grant a conditional liberation according to the following conditions:
- The prisoner is classed as third grade, has carried out three-quarters of their sentence and demonstrates good behaviour.
- The prisoner has carried out two-thirds of the sentence, has a job or participates in training or cultural activities, and demonstrates good behaviour.
- The prisoner is serving their first sentence, which is less than three years long, has served half its length and demonstrates good behaviour.
- The prisoner is classed as third grade and is over the age of 70.
- The prisoner is classed as third grade and is suffering from a serious illness.
The law provides for a temporary release system
There are three forms of temporary release:
1. Ordinary permit: the prisoner must have completed a quarter of their sentence, be classed as second or third grade, and show evidence of good behaviour. Meeting these conditions does not guarantee that leave will be granted. The length of an ordinary permission is 36 days per year for prisoners classed as second grade, divided into two half-year periods, with a maximum of seven consecutive days. For prisoners classed as third grade, the maximum is 48 days per year, subject to the same conditions. Prisoners on remand are not eligible for this permit.
2. Extraordinary permit: these are granted, in exceptional circumstances, to remand or convicted prisoners classed as first grade, in the case of the death or illness of a family member, or childbirth. These permits are subject to much stricter surveillance, and the prisoner usually remains handcuffed. The length of the permit is restricted to the duration of the event.
3. Weekend permit: the prisoner must be classed as third grade in order to be eligible. The outing usually lasts from 16:00 on Friday to 8:00 on Monday.
The law provides for a sentence adjustment for medical reasons
Article 91 of the penal code provides for the early release of a prisoner suffering from a serious or incurable illness. A medical certificate and the consent of a judge are required.
Number of prisoners who have been granted a presidential pardon or amnesty during the year
The King may issue a pardon, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Justice (the Law of Pardon). This pardon can be granted for all types of crime but does not remove the infraction from a person’s criminal record. Reoffenders are not eligible. The Law of Pardon is intended to promote reintegration. A pardoned individual must demonstrate proof of their self-improvement. The amnesty law was repealed in 1978. The final amnesty was granted in 1977 to political prisoners during the democratic transition.