Interior decides to isolate its 69 penitentiary centers

Interior decides to isolate its 69 penitentiary centers

© Alvaro Garcia
The Soto del Real prison, in the Community of Madrid.

Just 48 hours after isolating the 12 penitentiary centers in Madrid, La Rioja and Vitoria to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and then extending the measure to four other prisons, the Ministry of the Interior has decided to apply the strict measures to restrict movements to the 69 prisons and Social Insertion Centers (CIS) that depend on it. Nearly 23,000 officials work in them and 50,800 prisoners remain incarcerated, all of them classified as “high risk groups” due to the disease. To date, two cases of the disease have been confirmed in prisons: a female worker in the kindergarten of the Aranjuez prison (Madrid), in charge of working with children under the age of three who live with her, their incarcerated mothers, and a intern of the Alava prison of Zaballa. The measure does not affect the prisons of Catalonia, which is managed by the Generalitat.

From now on, in the 69 penitentiary centers all family, coexistence and intimate communications will be prohibited (the so-called vis a vis) and inmates will only be allowed to contact family, friends, and attorneys through phone booths separated by a glass partition. Religious assistance will also be in these spaces. In addition, only prison officials, workers or extra-prison staff “whose work is essential” may access from the outside. For example, volunteers from NGOs or other collaborating entities may not enter. Teaching activity within the prisons will be at the expense of the decisions of the educational authorities and scheduled departures for activities included in reintegration treatments in which inmates are accompanied by officials will be suspended. At the moment, permits and daily departures to work are contemplated in the modalities of serving the sentence in a semi-freedom regime. The measures are being communicated to the inmates by the management of each of the centers, the technical teams and the surveillance officials, without any incidents having been recorded so far.

To compensate for the restrictions on vis-a-vis – initially scheduled for 14 days – Interior will allow inmates from now on to make more phone calls a week for, as they admit in Prisons, in an internal document to which EL PAÍS has had access. Thus, they can now make 15 calls every seven days, instead of the usual 10. And the prisoners subjected by judicial order to the control of their communications, will be allowed 12, compared to the eight they could do so far. Prisons have asked the directors of the prisons to give “the maximum publicity among the prison population” to this last measure to avoid situations such as the recent serious incidents in Italian prisons.

Prisons, concentrating a large number of people in prison, is one of the main points of risk for the spread of the disease. In fact, since the coronavirus crisis erupted, Penitentiary Institutions has already issued three internal instructions in which it has progressively tightened control measures. In the first, on February 4 – when no positive case of coronavirus had yet been registered in Spain – the need to adopt the hygiene measures issued by the Ministry of Health was simply reiterated and indicated when to use masks and gloves disposable by both officials and prisoners. The circular already pointed out that in the event that it is detected that an inmate may be ill, “he will be isolated in an individual cell and the door will remain closed.”

Worker in the Aranjuez prison

This instruction was in force for a month, until last week, just a day before it was known that a female worker at the Aranjuez prison had tested positive, Prisons sent an official letter to all prisons with new “prevention and action measures ”Against the coronavirus. In the document, Penitentiary Institutions recommended taking preventive measures in the case of “inmates from risk areas that the WHO (World Health Organization) and national authorities determine” or those who “have had contact with people from said zones ”, in addition to all those that show“ any symptom compatible with Covid-19 infection ”.

Thus, it ordered that in these cases they be isolated for 14 days in the “individual cell” income module and that they avoid contact with other inmates. It also prohibited them from being transferred to other prisons during quarantine and, if required by a court, ordered that the court be informed of the situation they were in. If his liberty was decreed, he ordered that the release from prison be communicated “urgently to the corresponding health and judicial authority” so that it was you who determined how to act.

For prison officials unions, the measures taken are insufficient and call for more restrictions. Acaip-UGT, the majority among prison workers, has asked the Interior not to grant exit permits; the entry of packages for the inmates is prevented, or the activity is stopped in the workshops where the inmates work inside the prisons. They also demand better means of protection and specific training for officials who work in direct contact with prisoners.


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