Special populations

Female prisoners

7.1 % (3,925)

Variation in the number of female prisoners

increased by 1.7%

There were 4,368 female prisoners in January 2018.

Percentage of untried female prisoners

17.5 % (775)

Percentage of foreign female prisoners

28.5 % (1,267)

Women are detained in dedicated facilities or units. 80% serve their sentence in specific units in facilities primarily for men. 20% serve their sentence in four exclusively female establishments: Alcalá de Guadaira in Seville, Brieva in Avila, Alcalá and Madrid 1.

There is an effective separation between men and women


Mixed facilities are authorised in exceptional circumstances, with the consent of prisoners, for the execution of specific programmes or to maintain family links. Married male and female prisoners can meet in visitor’s rooms specifically equipped for families. These locations cannot accommodate people convicted of crimes of a sexual nature (according to article 99 of the Prison Regulations).

Untried female prisoners are separated from the convicted


According to the regulations, women being remanded are placed in different units to convicted female prisoners. However, this rule is not always observed in practice.

The prison staff is

mostly female

Strip searches are carried out by a female prison officer.

Gynaecological consultations are usually performed by external doctors. Women have complained of the irregularity or gynaecologists; presence, and the difficulty of accessing specialist consultations, including for pregnancy and maternal education. The Civil Guard does not always provide transfers to medical centres on the day of an appointment. Some specific needs are monitored, such as contraception, as set out in Article 38 of the penitentiary law. In most establishments, the infirmary is mainly reserved for men. Imprisoned women struggle to access it.
According to the CPT’s 2020 report, women prisoners are more likely than men to suffer from psychological disorders, drug addiction or tendencies to mutilate themselves. The CPT recommends that these issues be addressed on admission to detention. It insists on therapeutic rather than punitive treatment of women at risk of self-mutilation. The report also stresses that the supervision of this population should not be delegated to women prisoners but to trained staff.

Women experience greater difficulty accessing shared facilities, such as the library, sports centre, and theatre, than men. The activities offered are more limited, despite participating more frequently than men; in 2016, 39% of women joined workshops and vocational training, compared to 27% of men. The activities on offer are dominated by stereotypes, such as workshops on fashion, embroidery and housework.

Conjugal visits are allowed for women

yes, with proof of long-term relationship

Imprisoned women with young children can receive conjugal visits while the child is looked after by a third party, or at school.

Pregnant women are housed in specific units or cells


Pregnant women are placed in a unit for mothers, conditional on the availability of places.

The legislation provides for a sentence adjustment for pregnant women or women with young children


Pregnant women receive proper prenatal care


Women’s quarters are equipped with obstetric equipment. Some women have reported a lack of access to gynaecological services1.

  1. Gómez Ramírez, Sonia, “[The Reintegration of Women in Prison](https://addi.ehu.es/bitstream/handle/10810/18684 /Gomez%20Ram% C3%ADrez%20Sonia.pdf?sequence=1)”, 2016, University of the Basque Country, p. 61. (in Spanish) 

Childbirth takes place in

external care facilities

Childbirth normally takes place in a hospital.

Security staff is prohibited from entering the room during labour and childbirth


Officers of the Civil Guard are obligated to remain outside the delivery room.

Mothers are allowed to keep their children with them

yes, until 3 years old

Newly incarcerated mothers are able to live with their children, if they are under three years old.

“Mothers’ Units” (Unidades de Madres) was a pioneering experiment in Europe in the 1980s, which provided small external apartments for women with children, under the administration of the prison management. There are three such units, in Madrid, Seville, and Palma de Majorca, operating under a semi-open regime. The imprisoned women are under camera surveillance, alarms and monitors. Nurseries are provided in the residences for children. Imprisoned mothers and fathers are able to live with their children, if they are under three years old, in the family unit of Aranjuez prison. This project aims to extend the constitutional principle of the protection of the family into the prison setting, in order to maintain family ties.

Staff wear their uniform in the presence of children.

The law bans the imprisonment of minors


Minors aged between 14 and 17 do not serve their sentence in a correctional facility. They are placed in an interment facility for young offenders (centros de Internamiento de menores infractores, or CIMI). CIMIs are not managed by the prison administration.

Incarcerated minors

0 %


Ministry in charge of incarcerated minors

the autonomous Communities

Autonomous communities are able to manage their own facilities for minors.

Minors are subject to a specific justice system.

Sentences for minors range from a reprimand to placement in a CIMI. Alternative sentences to detention are probation, community service, or court-ordered therapy.

There are three regimes for minors:

  • closed: if the seriousness of the offence or the behaviour of the minor justifies this measure
  • semi-open: if the seriousness of the offence or the behaviour of the minor permits work or study outside the facility during the day
  • open

The maximum sentences incurred are six years for 14-15 year olds, and ten years for 16-17 year olds. Allocation to a facility takes into account a child’s family ties. Convicted minors who are sentenced to deprivation of liberty are assigned to the juvenile facility closest to their home.

Minors in prison are separated from adults


Article 99 of the Prison Regulations creates the obligation to accommodate all prisoners under the age of 21 in a unit or facility for juveniles. In Tarragona prison, the separation between juveniles and adults is not effective.

The schooling of minors is compulsory


The majority of facilities provide an education programme composed of three phases: observation or admission, development, and the final phase. The system at the centre in Sograndio, Asturies, is organised in a different fashion. The placement of minors in the system is determined by their gender, age, and evaluation of potential conflicts. Many children have expressed their discontent with the lack of academic support or vocational training1.

  1. Ibid, p.236. 

The law prohibits strip searches for minors


Strip searching of minors is legal. However, in its 2017 report, the CPT advised the Spanish authorities to alter their current policies on strip searches, describing them as intrusive and degrading. Instead, they should be carried out in two steps: removing clothing above the waist, and then, after these are put back on, removing clothing below the waist.

The law forbids solitary confinement for minors


The maximum period for which a minor can be held in isolation is seven days. A delegation from the CPT was alerted to cases in which minors were subjected to isolation for disciplinary reasons for three consecutive seven day periods. The committee recommended that the authorities prohibit disciplinary isolation of minors.

Participation in collective activities is compulsory. The activities offered to children are deemed satisfactory.

The Ombudsman reported in 2017 on the presence of the Auxiliary Educational Authorities (ACE) in some of the establishments visited. The ACE accompanies minors and teachers during various activities, particularly those held outdoors. The Ombudsman reported that in two prisons, Ciudad de Melilla and Odiel (Huelva), there was no clear distinction between the roles of the ACE and prison wardens.

Number and percentage of foreign prisoners

28.1 % (16,555)

Variation in the number of foreign prisoners

decreased by 0.14%

There were 16,579 foreign prisoners as of January 2018.


The most frequently represented nationalities are those of Morocco, Romania, Colombia, Ecuador, Algeria, China and the Dominican Republic.

The prison regulations are translated for foreign prisoners


Foreign prisoners can be assisted by an interpreter

in some cases

An interpreter must help the arrested foreigner and inform them of their rights while in custody and during a trial. This law is not respected in practice, however.

Foreign prisoners are entitled to legal aid


All imprisoned foreigners have the right to legal aid.

Foreigners cannot be imprisoned for illegal residence; this is, however, punishable with an administrative sanction (fines or deportation).

Foreign prisoners are allowed to remain in the country after having served their sentence


Foreigners who serve their sentences in Spain are deported after their release. Prisoners facing deportation do not benefit from any sentence adjustment.

Foreign prisoners are allowed to work while incarcerated


Access to work is dependent, for foreign and domestic prisoners alike, on demonstrating “good behaviour”.

Foreign prisoners can make calls to their home country, at their own expense. Phone calls made in police custody can only be made to areas within Spain.

There are no rules restricting visits for foreign prisoners. The practicalities vary between establishments. Visits can, in certain establishments, be grouped on the same day, in cases when relatives must make long journeys. The decision rests with the director of the facility.

A long-term sentence is considered as such as of

5 years

Cumulative sentences have a limit


The penal code sets out a limit on cumulative sentences, specified in Article 76 and modified by the Act of January 2015.

There are specific prison facilities for long-term prisoners


Individuals serving long sentences are usually classed as “first grade” (see “Organisation”). According to Article 89 onwards of the Prison Regulations, this classification entails individual accommodation, limitations on activities, and heightened levels of surveillance and control. Prisoners in closed regimes are not eligible for leave.

Prisoners serving long sentences are not necessarily subject to a specific prison regime.

Life sentences are banned


Percentage of untried prisoners

16.1 % (8,849)

Variation in the number of untried prisoners

increased by 9.3%

8,477 untried prisoners in January 2018.


Untried prisoners are separated from the convicted


There is no effective separation between untried and convicted prisoners. In the majority of establishments, convicted prisoners and defendants on remand are not separated.

The law provides for release on bail for untried prisoners


The value of bail is calculated according to the gravity of the offence, and the risk that a defendant will attempt to flee. Release on bail is not possible if the individual risks endangering the community or fleeing before trial, if they are accused of a serious and violent crime, if they may obstruct justice, or are a reoffender. The bail sum is refunded if the individual meets the conditions of their release.

Article 504 of the Criminal Procedure Act limits the length of imprisonment on remand; this limit varies depends on the crime but may not exceed one year if the potential sentence is fewer than three years. The length of remand detention may be extended to two years, if the prison sentence incurred exceeds three years. In addition, this limit can be extended:

  • by six months if the sentence is less than three years
  • by two years for a sentence of over three years. The remand prisoner is freed once the limit is reached. A judge can order their re-incarceration, should they fail to attend court hearings. Placement in remand detention is mandatory for those accused of violent crimes. Those accused of corruption are most frequently able to avoid incarceration while awaiting trial.

Untried prisoners do not have access to work. The prison regimes of untried and convicted prisoners otherwise differs very little.

Data collection about prisoners’ minority or indigenous background is allowed


In January 2019, there were 265 Basque prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people marched on 13 January 2019 in support of the reunion of prisoners who were former members of the armed separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), who are currently dispersed between Spain and France. There were 76,000 demonstrators at Bilbao, according to the organisers. Amnesty International has condemned the Spanish government’s policy of splitting up prisoners in this way. Members of banned Basque parties are imprisoned, such as Arnaldo Otegi, one of the leaders of the left-wing Basque independence campaign. He was freed on 1 March 2016 after six years of incarceration. 254 Basque prisoners linked to ETA were serving their sentence in Spain as of 2017. This number has fallen since 2013, following the European Court of Human Rights’ condemnation of Spain. 95% of Basque prisoners are classed as first grade (closed regime). Twenty-seven of these are kept in permanent isolation. Almost all Basque prisoners are classed as first grade (closed regime). The Central Tribunal for sentence application has refused forty-seven applications to change prisoners’ grades between July and October 2018. Two were approved. Etxerat, an association supporting the families of Basque prisoners, has denounced the illegal nature of these decisions and the discrimination which results from them. Etxerat criticises the policy of dispersal among prisons. This policy aims “to dissolve the unity of ETA members”. Etxerat explains in a 2015 report that the prisoners are spread between establishments which are between 190km (Logroño) and 1100km (Algericas) from the Basque Country. Puerto I and III, located in Cadiz, 1050km from the Basque Country, house the largest group of Basque prisoners, at 28. Their parents and relatives have been injured in accidents while travelling to visit them, numbering 25 incidents in 2014. Families have condemned the “double sentence” inflicted on Basque prisoners. Journeys made by their family are physically and psychologically exhausting and represent a significant financial cost. Etxerat estimates that visits cost between 1,000 and 2,000 euros per prisoner each month. Prisoners are obliged to publicly condemn the ETA in order to be eligible to transfer to a Basque prison. A large majority refuses to do so. Amnesty International has condemned the policy of dispersion practices by the Spanish government, and attests that this policy contravenes international standards.

LGBTQI+ persons are separated from other prisoners


Transgender prisoners are placed in a male or female unit after a psychological evaluation. Members of the LGBTI community can be placed in isolation to ensure their safety.

LGBTI individuals face the same forms of discrimination and exclusion as those encountered in the outside world.

Assignment of transgender prisoners to a specific facility depends on

  • their own identification
  • their ID gender
  • their biological sex

The allocation of a transgender prisoner to a male or female establishment is not systematically dictated by their biological sex or legally recognised gender. Decisions are generally made on a case-by-case basis by the prison management. The prisoners involved can indicate their preferred unit.

Transgender prisoners benefit from specific health care


Transgender prisoners are authorised to continue or begin hormone therapy after an evaluation by a medical specialist (endocrinologist).

Conjugal visits are allowed for LGBTQI+ prisoners


The prison service keeps a record of elderly prisoners


Number and percentage of elderly prisoners

4.6 % (2,650)

The number of elderly prisoners increased by 7% between 2018 and 2019. In 2018, there were 2,476.

/ General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions

22.6% of prisoners aged over 70 require physical or psychological support[^sgipp]. The Protocol for Comprehensive Care for the Elderly (Directive 8/22) is active in nine prisons under the SGIP. Eight other establishments have implemented similar programmes. The prison of Alcázar, of San Juan, houses the largest number of elderly people. The Ombudsman observed several problems with the application of the protocol in 2017. In practice, it does not include staff training, and the facility lacks a multidisciplinary team or a therapist, as is set out in the protocol1.

  1. Ombudsman, “2017 Annual Report”, pp. 159-160. (In Spanish) 

Certain elderly prisoners can benefit from conditional release, under the conditions that they are:

  • over the age of 70
  • are classed as “third grade”, or open regime
  • have favourable prospects for social reintegration

Prison facilities are adapted to the needs of prisoners with disabilities

some facilities

Provision for adjustments is included in the SGIP’s framework in partnership with the Spanish Confederation of Organisations for Individuals with Mental Disabilities (FEAPS). The programme supports prisoners with mental or physical disabilities. It aims at early detection of disabilities, allocation to specially adapted and certified units or facilities. The programme also provides for support for prisoners with intellectual disabilities, in order to preserve their autonomy1. Two facilities, Segovia and Estremera, use specific units adapted for people with disabilities. Staff receive training in caring for these inmates. Disabled prisoners in other facilities are aided by delegates from FEAPS.

  1. General Secretariat for Penitentiary Institutions, “2016 Annual Report”, p. 40. (In Spanish) 

Death penalty is abolished

yes, since 1995

The death penalty has been abolished for common law crimes since 1978. The last executions to take place in Spain were in 1975, when two members of ETA were shot. The death penalty is still referenced in Article 15 of the Constitution. Amnesty International has emphasised that the abolition of the death penalty in wartime ought to carry the same constitutional significance as its abolition for common law crimes. However, this is not seen as a pressing concern by human rights organisations; Spain has stated on many occasions its support for abolition, most notably by its adherence to Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is anticipated that the death penalty will be abolished completely in Spain. Spain hosted the fifth global congress against the death penalty in 2013.

There is no movement to reintroduce the death penalty.