Ministry in charge

  • Ministry for the Interior
  • Ministry for Health (in Catalonia and the Basque Country)

Social organisations are campaigning for the responsibility for healthcare to be transferred to the Autonomous Communities. This would facilitate the co-ordination of healthcare programmes (transfer of medical records, continuity of care, etc.). Legislation enacted in 2003 would allow this transfer to take place, however this has only happened in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Every prison facility has a health care unit


Number of medical staff (FTE)


/ SPACE, p. 75.
  • 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.

    / Vozpopuli

A primary care team1 is present in each prison, providing outpatient services. The team consists of at least one general medical practitioner and two nurses. Psychiatrists, dentists and occasionally pharmacists may also be available. Other specialists (e.g. ophthalmologists, gynaecologists, dermatologists etc.) are rarely present. Patients suffering from certain conditions are taken to hospital. There are insufficient doctors available. Requests for medical consultations are subject to delays. Sixteen out of 82 establishments have a pharmacy on site.

  1. Ombudsman, “[Annual Report and Court Cases 2017]( /Informe_anual_2017_vol.I.1_Gestion.pdf)”, 2018, pp. 197-198. (in Spanish) 

Each prison is attached to a particular hospital, which must be equipped with a secure unit to receive patients (hospital beds with a police guard).

Health care is free


A medical examination is performed upon admission


New inmates undergo blood tests and other medical examinations. The CPT recommends that all establishments keep a register of injuries sustained by inmates before their admission or during their detention.

A medical file is opened upon admission


Prisoners can access health care units after

an oral request

Verbal requests addressed to the prison guards are not dealt with promptly. The CPT delegation received complaints from inmates in all of the prisons they visited. The CPT recommends that inmates should be able to engage directly and confidentially with healthcare service providers. They suggest the installation of a letterbox, managed by the healthcare provider.

Medical examinations are carried out on a confidential basis

in most cases

Medical confidentiality is not guaranteed when the patient is examined in the hospital setting. The presence of police officers during diagnostic consultations has been reported. Results of tests are not given directly to the patient. There are cases of female inmates refusing to have a gynaecological examination due to the presence of prison guards in the consultation room.

Inmates must be allowed access to the same care that they would receive in the outside world. Social organisations have revealed that these rights are not respected. There is a clear inequality of access in this area.

The prison administration is responsible for the health of prisoners, according to the legislation, and must provide them with medication.
Inmates suffering from mental disabilities or conditions were mainly treated with medication. This finding was not surprising given the lack of prison psychiatrists and psychologists. According to the Committee for the prevention of torture, some inmates with schizophrenia may be over-medicated. The Committee questioned the prisoners’ consent, which sometimes appears to be the result of coercion.

The most prevalent diseases are :

  • Hepatitis C
  • Tuberculosis
  • 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.

    / Vozpopuli

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.

    / Leon Noticias
  • 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.

    / Ser
  • 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

    / 20 minutos

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.

    European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addictions.

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.

  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.

    / El Confidencial
  • 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.

    / Las Provincias

The Ombudsman has noticed a lack of specialist personnel, notably in the prison psychiatric hospital in Seville. There are four vacancies for psychiatrists in the institution. At the time of the delegation’s visit in 2017, there was only one psychiatrist available to meet the needs of 169 inmates1.

  1. National Preventive Mechanism “MNP Annual Report 2017“, 2018, p.168. (in Spanish)“ 

Inmates with addictions receive special monitoring.

Inmates with addictions have particular services available:

  • Smoking: the percentage of smokers among prisoners is higher than in the outside population. The prison administration has been increasing smoking information and awareness campaigns since 2012. It has organised conferences and individual cessation programmes. The length of the programmes varies between two and three months and the participants have a follow-up assessment at the end of their programme. In 2016, the programme was in place in 18 establishments and was involved in the treatment of 315 inmates.

  • Alcoholism: a programme provides awareness of the risks of excessive consumption of alcohol, suggests strategies to abstain and organises group workshops to motivate the patients. The average number of participants in the programme is 1,300 inmates per quarter.

  • Drug addiction: the war on drugs is one of the key priorities of prison health programmes. Many intervention programmes have been developed around three fundamentally interdependent areas: prevention, assistance and social reintegration. Dedicated therapy areas have been set up. Inmates with drug dependencies can access substitute treatments, like methadone.