Incarceration rate (per 100,000 inhabitants)
The authorities publish official statistics on prison population
on a regular basis, monthly
The prison service has a computerised record keeping system
Total number of prisoners
including 7,746 in Catalonia
Variation in the number of prisoners
increased by 18%
between february 2020 and december 2020
Number of people serving non-custodial sentences
Variation in the number of people serving non-custodial sentences
increased by 6.5%
(between 2018 and 2019)
Variation in the incarceration rate
decreased by 12%
between 2016 and 2020
Number of admissions
Number of releases
Average length of imprisonment (in months)
73% in SGIP institutions and 75% in DGSP institutions
The occupancy rate of prisons under the authority of the Spanish Ministry of the Interior was one of the lowest in Europe: 73% in January 2021.
According to data from the Council of Europe, the occupancy rate of prisons run by the General State Administration (Administración General del Estado, AGE) was among the lowest in Europe.
With 73.4 inmates for 100 spaces, the occupancy rate of prison facilities managed by the AGE was 9.1 points lower than the European average.
Variation in the prison density
2022 began with the country’s lowest occupancy rate since 2002. The authorities counted 46,053 prisoners (42,741 men and 3,312 women) at the end of 2021. The reduced prison population was due to reforms of the penitentiary and legal systems as well as the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The General Secretary of the prison service, Ángel Luis Ortiz González, thinks that the increase in semi-custodial arrangements influenced the drop in the occupancy rate.
The proportion (%) in 2018 of convicted persons by the length of their sentence is1:
- Less than a month: 0.1%
- Between one to three months: 0.3%
- Between three and six months: 3.2%
- Between six months and one year: 5.9%
- Between one and three years: 19.4%
- Between three and five years: 21%
- Between five and ten years: 27%
- Between ten and twenty years: 18.2%
- Twenty years or more: 4.5%
European Council, “Annual Prison Statistics. Space I- Prison Populations Survey 2018, 2019, p. 49. ↩
The country has been condemned by an international court for its prison overcrowding
The prison population has been decreasing since 2010 (for the exception of last year). This decline can be explained by the growing number of non-custodial sentences. Legislative reforms have also reduced the length of sentences for certain infractions. An increase has, however, been observed in the last year.
A supervisory body has issued a decision on prison overcrowding
The CPT (Council for the Prevention of Torture) has commented on the efforts made by Spanish authorities to combat prison overcrowding. The prison population is, however, unevenly distributed. Some establishments or units remain overpopulated.
Several important reforms to the Penal Code were enacted in 2010, intended to:
- Lower the maximum lengths of sentences and reduce the number of incarcerated persons. The adjustment to sentences principally concerned drug offences and serious road safety infractions.
- Develop alternative sentences, such as community service
- Introduce the principle of “proportionality” in relation to the severity of an infraction, and to decrease the frequency at which people awaiting trial are imprisoned.
There were 58,971 people in prison in January 2019. There were 76, 079 in December 2009.
Name of authority in charge of the prison service
- Minister of the Interior for all autonomous communities
- Department of Justice for Catalonia
Budget of the prison service
Dollars - 1.869 million Euros
The prison service outsources the management of the facilities to private companies, either partially or fully
Peripheral security is privatised. The pilot project, introduced in 2013, involved 21 facilities. It was extended to the remaining prisons in October 2014. The budget allocated to this project is 48 million euros. The Association for Penitentiary Administration (Agrupación de los Cuerpos de la Administración de Instituciones Penitenciarias, ACAIP) has been strongly critical of this initiative which it deems costly and ineffective. The union has denounced the links between the Popular Party (PP) and security companies.
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.
Seventy prison officers have filed an administrative appeal with the High Court of Justice of the Basque Country. This complaint is brought against the Basque judicial management for the violation of the officers’ fundamental rights while performing their jobs. They criticise the low salaries granted by the Basque administration and the lack of supplies. The unions start mobilising in the coming weeks to showcase the “absolute failure” of the Basque management.
The prison regime operates on a system of classification:
- First Grade: this concerns potentially dangerous prisoners. A closed, high-security regime is imposed. This can also apply to prisoners on provisionary detention.
- Second Grade: this concerns prisoners placed in the ordinary closed regime.
- Third Grade: this concerns prisoners who receive a regime of partial liberty. Assignation of this grade is subject to consideration of a prisoner’s personal situation (parenthood, illness, etc), the seriousness of their crime, and their behaviour.
On 1 October 2021, a transfer of jurisdiction placed the Basque executive branch in charge of managing prisons in its region. Following this transfer, 36 prisoners requested to be reclassified into a higher prison status (prisoner ranking system), and 25 prisoners, who are members of the ETA, were granted the promotion. The proportion of prisoners who were granted this change and are members or former members of the ETA is 5% higher than that of the general prison population. 116 former ETA members, sentenced for their affiliation with the terrorist group, are serving their sentences in Basque prisons. Among them, 36 prisoners are held in a semi-custodial regime, including 28 in level 3, meaning they can move about freely during the day and only spend their nights in prison. The Basque government denies any favouritism towards ETA members. 457 status promotions were granted since the transfer of jurisdiction, of which 5% were members of the ETA.
Penitentiary establishments are divided into four categories:
- Closed facilities, of which SGIP oversees 69, and DGSP oversees 9.
- Centres for social integration, semi-open facilities, pf which SGIP oversees 56 and DGSP oversees four.
- Units for mothers, of which SGIP oversees three.
- Penitentiary psychiatric hospitals, numbering two for SGIP and one for DGSP.
Total number of prison facilities
Total official capacity of the prison facilities
The size of facilities varies markedly. The largest complexes accommodate over a thousand prisoners, such as the prison of Sevilla I-Morón de la Frontera, or Madrid VII-Estremera. On the other hand, some facilities have fewer than 100 places. The prison of Cuenca has only 60 cells.
Prison facilities are accessible by public transport
Most Spanish prisons are located far from the city centre. The Modelo, a prison for men located in the centre of Barcelona, was an exception, until it was closed in 2017. The women’s open penitentiary centre Wad-Ras, is located in the centre of Barcelona.
Number of prison guards (FTE)
Guard to prisoner ratio
1 : 3
Number of socio-educational workers (FTE)
There are two categories of social and education workers :
- Psychologists and professionals in charge of evaluating prisoners : 941 (717 under SGIP and 224 under DGPS).
- Social workers, teachers and educators in charge of educational activities : 2,163 (1,488 under SGIP and 675 under DGPS).
Percentage of socio-educational workers in relation to the entire prison staff
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)
Several prison unions have denounced their working conditions, particularly with regard to violence, understaffing and lack of security means. They have also been critical for several years of the lack of dialogue with the authorities to improve their working conditions.
Future prison wardens are required to pass an exam and undertake training to join the prison staff. There are three qualifying exercises: a personality evaluation, a knowledge test, and a medical examination. The selected wardens undergo rotation training. To sit the exam, there are several prerequisites: potential recruits must have Spanish nationality, hold a bachelor’s or vocational degree, and have never been sentenced to a prison term of more than three years.
As of January 2018, different roles in the prison administration are carried out by 24, 844 members of staff. Wardens represent 62% of the workforce. Lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, teachers, social workers, healthcare professionals and youth workers make up the rest of the staff1. In their 2015 report, the ACAIP expressed their worries regarding the ageing workforce: 79% of prison employees were under the age of 40 in 1995, falling to 21% in 2015, when 40.9% of workers were over 50 years old. Many members of staff are approaching retirement. They frequently need sick days and cite workplace conditions as a major factor in this.
European Council, “Annual Prison Statistics. Space I - Prison Populations Survey 2018”, 2019, pp. 75-77. ↩