Capital city — Madrid
Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabit…i
Type of government
Human Development Index
Homicide rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
Name of authority in charge of the pris…
Total number of prisonersi
Average length of imprisonment (in mont…
Total number of prison facilities
An NPM has been established
Number and percentage of female prisone…i
Death penalty is abolished
Psychiatric units within prisons are few and far between, despite the legal measures put in place.
The two psychiatric prison facilities are in Seville and Alicante, under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. Brians 1 prison, in Catalonia, has a psychiatric hospital unit. Brians II has a psychiatric rehabilitation unit that can house 22 patients. This prison also has an arrangement with the Sant Joan de Déu hospital, for the treatment of prisoners with serious mental health problems. These institutions are under the control of the Catalan Department for Justice.
A specific programme for people suffering from certain mental health issues (PAIEM, “Programa de Atención Integral a Enfermos Mentales”) was set up in 2005 by the prison administration. The number of prisoners taking part in this programme in 2017 was 2,029 (1,892 of which are in SGIP prisons and 137 in Catalonia). This represents 3.4% of the prison population. The PAIEM programme is present in the majority of prisons. NGOs are involved in delivering the programme.
The Ombudsman has remarked on the programme’s deficiencies in most of the prisons it visited. Care is limited to diagnosis and drug therapy. Tailored therapy is not often provided.
In 2017, the Ministries for Health and Justice signed an agreement for the integration of mental health teams in all institutions. The Catalan Penitentiary Administration has promised to invest an additional 6.5 million euros from 2018 (18.5 million per year in total) to mental health.
Around 8% of inmates in Spain suffer from serious psychological problems (around 4,700 people)1.
The Association for Human Rights of Andalusia (APDHA), “Health in Prison, Robbed of health within four walls”, 2016, p.23. (in Spanish)“ ↩
More than 200 charities and associations specialising in mental health came together to oppose the proposed development of a super-psychiatric prison unit at Siete Aguas (Valence). The unit was designed to hold 500 prisoners. The campaigning organisations, under the collective banner “mental health beyond prison” demanded that construction be stopped. The vice-president of Valencia was also opposed to the new centre.
Critics of the two existing ‘psychiatric prison’ facilities in Séville and Fontcalent claimed they were overcrowded, poorly run and lacked sufficient medical staff. It was also claimed that they were run more for punishment than psychiatric care: *“Nearly ten years ago, prison authorities were already cautioning that these facilities must not become substitutes for the old asylums, which were banned under psychiatric reforms of the 1980s”, said the campaigners.
They stressed that the proposed facilities contravened national mental health strategy: prisons cannot and should not support people suffering severe mental ill health. The super psychiatric prison unit would not meet international standards, and they were concerned it would also be too remote.
A call for tenders aims to begin the construction of the country’s largest high-security psychiatric hospital in Siete Aguas. The Ministry of the Interior is allocating €700,000 to the project. Nearly 500 prisoners will be able to be accommodated in a space of 70,000 square metres. Architects, doctors and psychologists have been working on the project. The facility is designed as a village: ten residential buildings will be constructed with many green spaces provided. It will also be possible to accommodate the prisoners’ families. The project comes across as an alternative to existing high-security psychiatric hospitals: an emphasis will be placed on the medical support and education of patients.
A needle exchange programme has been in place since 1997. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS among users of injectable drugs is at 40%. Condoms are made available. The review of this controversial programme shows that:
- Drug use and injection does not increase
- Risk behaviours and transmission of diseases (HIV, Hepatitis C) decrease
- Positive health outcomes have been observed (drastic reduction in overdose cases)
- A number of establishments vouch for the effectiveness of the programme.
Risk minimisation programmes in prison aim to reduce drug-related risk of harm. Programmes include testing, vaccination and provision of safe injecting equipment, protection and hygiene products such as bleach.
Collective movements are recorded
Las Palmas II prison reported an attempted riot, including material damage. Five prisoners, believed to have instigated the attempt, were placed in isolation.
Number of escapes
Two escapes took place in July 2017, at the Villabona prison.
Three people of Moroccan origin escaped from Melilla prison. During an authorised release they attempted to reach Morocco by jet-ski.
The methods of body search employed are pat-down, strip search and body cavity search. The person carrying out the search is clearly identifiable. Cells are not equipped with cameras. Searches are not filmed. Strip searches are carried out in a dedicated room.
Videos that were circulating showed prisoners in possession of contraband and drugs. Security measures in Monterroso prison in Lugo were tightened. More than 2,600 mobile phones were confiscated in 2019, which is more than twice the number seized in 2017. Spain’s Interior Minister called on prison authorities to implement *“the most efficient and rigorous searches possible”. *Prisoners suspected of trafficking or taking drugs would regularly be subjected to strip searches.
The cells/dormitories are equipped with heating and/or air conditioning
The establishments are equipped with a heating system. Some inmates complain of a lack of heating in the cells and state that only certain communal areas are heated. At Cordoba prison, cells are equipped with air conditioning units. However, these are out of service. In general, establishments are not equipped with air conditioning systems. The administration has noted that very high temperatures can affect prisoners’ levels of aggression.
Despite the exceptionally hot summers in Andalusia, prisons in the region do not have air-conditioning. The APDHA (a not-for-profit organisation concerned with human rights in the Andalusia region) brought the matter to the attention of the authorities. The Spanish Preventative Mechanism highlighted its concerns about the lack of air conditioning in its report of 2014.
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.”
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.
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.
The prison staff is represented by (a) union(s)
The two main trade unions are:
- The Association of Penitentiary Administration (ACAIP), the most influential organisation
- The Professional Association of Prison Officers (APFP)
The Prison staff union Tu Abandono Me Puede Matar criticised working conditions in Villena prison. The complaints apparently stemmed from three incidents that occurred there in August 2021, in which staff members were injured and hospitalised. The union deplored the violent attacks and blamed poor management of the prison and called on the Ministry of the Interior to intervene.
Prison staff unions raised the alarm over working conditions. Prison staff were increasingly victims of violence at work, with at least one violent incident reported each day in one of Spain’s 84 prisons. Prison staff from Extremadura gathered to protest about their working conditions and understaffing issues. 3,287 of 24,346 prison roles were then unfilled.
Prison staff also complained about the lack of protective equipment. They would be provided with walkie-talkies but stressed that the profile of prisoners had changed, and they could find themselves dealing with young men with military experience. Prison officers would like to be officially recognised as ‘public authorities’.
Variation in the number of prison guard positions
Soria’s new prison received government approval for the creation of approximately 100 new posts. These would be in addition to the 133 existing posts. The new recruits would be part of a project to make Soria the “most modern prison in Spain”. It would open in July 2021.
Inmates undergo a medical examination on arrival at the institution. The prevention of epidemic and communicable diseases is of utmost importance. An x-ray is performed on all inmates who show the first symptoms of tuberculosis. A doctor performs this examination.
A prison staff authority requested additional resources to face the third wave of COVID-19. Staff members have been increasingly concerned about the spread of the virus.
Andalusia health services (SAS) kicked off a COVID-19 vaccination drive for prisoners. The first prisons involved were Evaristo Martín Nieto and two others in the Malaga region. They expected to vaccinate more than 17,000 prisoners around the province.
The CSIF union filed a complaint to the head of prison administration denouncing the delays in the COVID-19 vaccination: nearly 7,000 prison officers have not yet been vaccinated. The union complained about their turn coming after the prisoners. Prison officials responded that more than 17,000 officers and all health staff had received their first dose. They reminded people that vaccination protocols are set by the Ministry of Health and Autonomous Communities
The most prevalent diseases are :
- Hepatitis C
Since the start of the pandemic, 1,823 prison employees and 2,115 prisoners tested positive for COVID-19. Five employees and nine prisoners died.
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 Ministry of the Interior announced that visits, including those from lawyers, were suspended at Picassent prison for an initial period of two weeks.
The Spanish penitentiary system comes under two administrations:
- The General Secretariat for Penitentiary Institutions (SGIP), for all the autonomous communities (with the exception of Catalonia). It is under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior.
- The General Directorate for Penitentiary Services (DGSP) for Catalonia. This falls under the supervision of the Department of Justice.
A joint committee facilitates coordination between the two administrations.
Detention conditions vary according to the managing authority of a facility (SGIP or DGSP), the age of the building, and the prison regime.
The central authorities plan to transfer the management of the Basauri, Zaballa and Martutene prisons to the Basque Country on 1 October 2021. The Basque Country will establish its own policies for reintegration and the enforcement of sentences. It will be in charge of Junta de Tratamiento, the body responsible for the psychological evaluation of prisoners. These prisons will be the first of the “Basque model”, which is based on three pillars: “resocialisation, rehabilitation and reintegration”. Approximately 1,300 prisoners are in question, including around 40 ETA activists.
The prison service offers activities to prisoners
Inmates show a real interest in organised activities and the level of participation is considered to be satisfactory. Prisoners classed as “first grade” have limited access to activities.
Since March, nine prisons have been offering a program dedicated to those convicted of fraud and/or corruption. The aim is to increase awareness about the consequences of their actions. The volunteer prisoners participate in 32 sessions of group therapy, spread over 11 months. The psychiatrist-led sessions are, among other things, about “values” or “personal skills”. The program does not give access to sentence remission. It has been proposed to 2,044 prisoners sentenced for fraud in the country.
Spain has had a radicalisation prevention programme in place for a number of years. Prison staff are required to pay close attention to the religious practices of radicalised inmates (“internos radicalizados“, IR) in terms of food, reading materials, strict adherence to rituals (fasting, prayer), clothing and tobacco consumption, amongst other things. In 2018, the prison administration distributed a “Violent radicalisation risk assessment tool”, to be completed by the prison psychologist. They are required to assess those convicted of such offences or those who show signs of radicalisation. These assessments are repeated every six months.
Since December 2020, the Ministry of the Interior has been deploying “anti-jihadist operations” in prisons.
Six prisoners and two former prisoners were accused of jihadist proselytising. These operations were carried out due to information obtained under the auspices of the “groups of control and surveillance”, formed in 2008. The groups are composed of prison officers who are responsible for collecting information on prisoners who are deemed suspicious. A protocol divides prisoners who are considered radicalised into three groups: those who were sentenced for terrorism, prisoners who are said to have been radicalised after their entry into prison, and prisoners who are classified as “vulnerable” to proselytism. In 2021, the prison administration listed 223 prisoners who were considered radicalised. They were separated from other prisoners and distributed among the country’s prisons.
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.
Number of medical staff (FTE)
The number of doctors in prisons was deemed insufficient. The prison in Valencia has five doctors and an assistant medical director out of the 21 recommended health personnel. The prison of Valdemoro has, for 870 prisoners, four doctors - two of whom will retire in September. The CESM Medical Union stated that seven prison institutions begin the summer period without a doctor. The Ministry of the Interior, responsible for the health of those in prison, would not meet the demands of the Union in this regard.