Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

  • the prison service
  • the police or gendarmerie
  • private companies

The department of security within the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the management of prison security. The Ministry of the Interior has given responsibility for the external prison security to private companies. Article 63 of the prison regulations, however, states that “the external security of establishments is the responsibility of The State Security Forces and Corps (FFCCSE) or, where applicable, the police forces of the autonomous communities”.

Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


Isolation cells, also known as high security, hold prisoners considered to be dangerous.

The Herrera de La Mancha prison, built in 1979, was one of the first maximum security prisons built in Spain. The Alicante II prison is one of the most secure facilities. Some of the enhanced security measures employed are:

  • Individual cells
  • Solitary walking time
  • Reduced contact with wardens
  • Frequent cell changes

There is no time limit to prisoners being confined under this type of regime.

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness


Article 63 of the General Penitentiary Organic Law allows for individual treatment according to how dangerous the prisoner is considered to be. The classification takes into account the criminal history, personality, family and social situation and the length of the sentence.

The classification of prisoners is revised

every three or six months

The classification is reviewed every three or six months for “first grade” prisoners (article 65 of the General Penitentiary Organic Law).

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.

    / El Pais

Body cavity searches are conducted by a physician


Body cavity searches are carried out by officers of the same gender as the prisoner. They are carried out in a closed room with no other prisoners present and, as far as possible, in a way that is respectful to the prisoner (article 68 of the royal decree 190/1996).

Relatives who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

  • electronic devices (scanners, electronic security detectors, etc.)
  • pat-downs
  • strip search

Visitors are required to pass through an electronic security detector gate. Article 45 of the 190/1996 decree allows visitors to be strip-searched if they are believed to be concealing a prohibited object. The visitor is refused entry if they refuse to be searched.

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

electronic devices

Wardens, social workers, lawyers, chaplains and other qualified persons undergo an electronic security check.

Methods of constraint (handcuffs, shackles) are used after an incident, when transferring a prisoner to a high security area. Minors in the Sogradio and Tierras de Oria prisons have reported being slapped and hit by staff. The CPT notes the use of mechanical constraint on agitated minors. Some minors at the Tierras de Orias prison were immobilised on their stomach while attached to a bed for several hours. They were not allowed access to a toilet.

Security staff carry

non-lethal weapons

Staff are authorised to resort to firearms in the event of imminent danger to people or to the establishment.

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


Article 72 of the prison regulations allows that in the event of serious disorder or imminent danger to persons or belongings, the prison governor can call upon security forces to intervene (“Fuerzas de Seguridad de guardia“, FFCCSE). These organisations are permitted to use firearms. The use of firearms is controlled by legislation for the FFCCSE and by the General Penitentiary Organic Law.

The Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights (OSPDH at the University of Barcelona) has noted continued abuse by wardens, such as damage to the personal effects of prisoners.

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.

    / El País

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.

    / Médias 24

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.

    / El Confidencial

Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing


The use of discipline is enshrined in the General Penitentiary Organic Law of 1979 and in the prison regulations enacted in 1981 and modified in 1996.

Article 42 of the penitentiary law of 1979 allows for various disciplinary sanctions:

  • Solitary confinement, for a maximum of 14 days
  • Solitary confinement at the weekend, for a maximum of seven weekends
  • Denial of exit permits, for a maximum of two months
  • Limit on telephone communication, for a maximum of one month
  • Denial of walks and communal activities, for a maximum of one month.
  • Formal warnings

Disciplinary offences are investigated

in most cases

The investigation file must state the identification number of the investigating officer and the post they hold. The names of other parties involved in the investigation are sometimes included.

The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate

in most cases

The prisoner has three working days, starting from the day when they receive notification of the sanction, to present their defence in writing or to appear before the investigator and testify verbally.

Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer


A lawyer can assist the prisoner in the preparation of their defence. The lawyer is not permitted to be present at the disciplinary committee.

Every disciplinary sanction is delivered by a collegial body: the disciplinary committee. Article 276 of the prison regulations requires the disciplinary committee to be presided over by the prison governor and to consist of the following people: the deputy director of security, an in-house lawyer, a head of department and a representative of the prison staff (chosen annually).

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


Appeals are made to the prison governor, who informs the judicial authority. A copy in a sealed envelope is returned to the prisoner.

Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection
  • security measure

Solitary confinement is used as a preventative measure to “protect the life or physical integrity of the prisoner and to maintain order in the establishment”. It is sometimes used arbitrarily. Prisoners who have committed sexual offences or those who belong to the LGBTI community can be placed in isolation to guarantee their safety. They can also be placed - unofficially - in the infirmary or in the new arrivals area. Officials of state bodies who are incarcerated are placed in separate areas for their own protection. Disciplinary use of solitary confinement (article 42 of the penitentiary law) is applied in the event of gross misconduct (aggression, violence, persistent and serious disturbance of communal life). A prisoner can be placed in solitary confinement if they are found in possession of prohibited items (weapons, controlled substances…).

Solitary confinement is decided

  • at a magistrate’s order
  • by the prison governor
  • by guards

The judge must approve the solitary confinement order when it exceeds 14 days (article 76 of the penitentiary law). The prison governor can authorise a prisoner being placed in solitary confinement (article 75 of the penitentiary law) without defence or appeal.

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited

yes, for disciplinary measures

Article 42 of the penitentiary law regulates the length of time that a prisoner can remain in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons. The period of isolation cannot exceed 14 days or seven consecutive weekends for one disciplinary offence. The period can extend to a maximum of 42 days for multiple disciplinary offences.

Solitary confinement can be extended


The CPT observed that in several establishments, consecutive periods of solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons were being implemented after a one-day break.

Solitary confinement is implemented in a dedicated unit that exists in all establishments. Cells have a surface area of around 10m2. They are equipped with a metal bed and table secured to the wall, a shelving unit and a chair. The sanitary facilities (WC, washbasin and shower) are situated within the cell. The CPT consider the lighting and ventilation to be adequate. The units are equipped with a small gym, an education room and a courtyard for exercise 1.

  1. European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, “Report on the visit from 27 September to 10 October 2016”, 2017, p.34. 

Prisoners placed in solitary confinement can spend three hours outside of the cell per day. They are allowed to spend their walking time with another prisoner and in exceptional cases, activities can include up to five people. The courtyards do not provide a welcoming environment: grey, with no decoration or vegetation. The horizontal view is limited to ten metres.

Prisoners placed in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons are initially denied access to cultural or sporting activities. Access is gradually reintroduced to allow the prisoners to demonstrate their good behaviour.

Prisoners undergoing sanctions are denied visits from their loved ones. Prisoners must be informed of the duration of any ban on telephone calls.